Old Dog Health Problems

It can be hard to watch our dogs get older. As they age, they may start to experience a few "". Many of these problems are not serious, but some can be - and it's always wise to keep a watchful eye on your senior pooch. Check your dog regularly for warnings signs that all may not be as it should be. Here are a few things to watch for.

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Unusual Lapses In Housetraining

A dog that may have been rock-solid steady in his housetraining may start eliminating in appropriate places. Now, again is possible, of course, but the first thing to do is bring him to the vet to rule out (or treat) any underlying medical conditions that may be causing these housebreaking problems, including the possibility of pain. Some conditions that can cause excess thirst (leading to more drinking and more urinating) include , , , or canine diabetes. ("doggy dementia") could also cause dogs to have lapses in housetraining.

It can be difficult to deal with accidents in the house, particularly if your home has lots of carpeting or rugs. A spot cleaning machine like the Bissell SpotBot can make cleaning up a lot easier, less time-consuming, and less stressful.

Lumps and Bumps

Check your dog for lumps and bumps, particularly any that appear suddenly or that appear to change in size, shape, texture, or color. Check all over his body, including in between his paw pads. Note the location and size of the lumps and contact your vet for advice. Your vet will do a physical exam and ask you questions about your dog's behavior. He or she can then suggest various courses of action.

Many lumps are benign, such as fatty cysts or warts. If you or your vet believes it might be malignant, a fine needle aspirate may be possible (where they suck some cells out of the lump), or the lump may be removed. General anesthesia always carries a risk... so if the lump isn't malignant or bothering the dog in any way, perhaps it isn't worth removing. Ask your vet for advice.

Grooming your pet regularly can help to quickly identify any new lumps or bumps. To keep track of any changes of size or shape (vets often ask about this), place a piece of paper on top and gently trace its outline. Write down the date and location of the lump on the tracing.

Food Adjustments

Adjust your dog's food as required. Many commercial dog foods offer a "senior's diet" which is supposed to be specially formulated for the older dog. As dogs age, their metabolisms can change and they could become more prone to obesity if their diets are not adjusted accordingly. Some people prefer to homecook for their dog or feed them raw diets (or freeze-dried raw food). A holistic veterinarian and veterinary nutritionist may be able to help you create a diet that's appropriate for your dog and provides all the nutrients he will need.

Also look for . Both increases and can be caused by medical conditions (for example, is one of many reasons why a dog may lose his appetite). You might also find that your old dog is experiencing bouts of , , or more frequently.

Sometimes a change in diet can help trigger a senior pet's appetite. There are so many types of foods available now, including a huge variety of canned foods. Changes in food should be done gradually to avoid any stomach upset. Pets with medical issues should not change diet without a discussion with the vet first.

Changes in Your Dog's Skin or Coat

A visit to the vet may be warranted, for example, if your dog's skin or fur becomes very dry or he starts to shed excessively (not merely his normal shedding, but real loss of fur). Brushing your dog regularly will reveal any changes in his skin or coat early. Treating the problem immediately will help to prevent it from getting worse. The longer the problem exists, the more difficult it will be to treat successfully.

Regularly grooming your pet can help you find issues in their skin or coat that may need investigation by a vet. Older pets can become more sensitive to being brushed. Not only can their skin be more sensitive, but pain issues can cause them to dislike grooming.

Excessive Drinking or Urinating

This is known as polydipsia/polyurea, and there are could be several medical reasons behind it. A complete check-up and bloodwork can help determine the cause.

Pets that are already drinking or urinating excessively sometimes have accidents in the home. Dog incontinence or protection pads (or puppy pads) can be useful in these situations.

Decreased Mobility

You might notice that your pet has trouble getting up or climbing stairs, or perhaps he doesn't like to rough house with the other pets anymore. You can ask your vet to assess your dog for arthritis or other . With some dogs (like with some people) it's fairly mild, and in others it can be quite painful. Many dogs will have . Weakness in the hind end has many causes; in certain breeds especially German Shepherds, is a possible concern. Doggy ramps (choose the best dog ramp for large, older dogs), elevated feeders, and mobility harnesses or slings are just a few useful items that can assist older dogs.

If your pet's mobility is on the decrease, make sure you likewise adjust his exercise routine (shorter walks, swimming, etc). Exercise is still important to keep him healthy. Likewise, try to keep him at a healthy weight as it will put less stress on his joints.

For more tips on how to help aging pets, check out our buying guide for Products That Improve the Lives of Senior Pets.

Changes in Hearing or Vision

If you notice that dog doesn't come on command anymore, starts reacting as if he's startled when someone approaches, or begins bumping into things, take him to the vet for assessment. Dogs usually start to experience a decrease in both vision and hearing as they age. Unfortunately, there's not a lot that can be done other than making changes to help dogs adjust to their decreased vision and hearing (for example, using big gestures to communicate with your dog).

Did you know that there's a simple device for blind dogs called a halo guide? It prevents blind dogs from bumping face-first into things, while also helping them become familiar with their surroundings.

Behavioral Changes

This can include confusion (even to the point where he doesn't recognize members of the family), restlessness, , separation anxiety when none existed before, and other . Sometimes there is an underlying physical reason for behavior changes; it could also be dementia. Your vet will examine your dog to try to determine the cause. Sometimes older dogs will enjoy more 'alone time' snoozing; in this case, can offer the dog a quiet and peaceful place to get away from other pets, children, etc.

Sometimes simple changes can help dogs who are starting to show anxiety. For instance, DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) and Feliway for cats are scents that help to calm some pets. Many people have also had great results with a Thundershirt or calming wrap.


Your vet may suggest a senior's blood panel to screen for some of the more common geriatric conditions so that they can be treated, if necessary. Old dog health issues are to be expected, just like when people age, we experience health issues too. But senior dogs make wonderful pets and deserve to live out their remaining years with dignity, as happy and as healthy as possible. Be sure to take good care of yourself too, as a healthy caregiver is much more equipped to help an aging pet.