Top 5 Common Ailments of Older Dogs

Photo: Erin F.

We don’t like to think about the aging process – we have a whole industry built around anti-aging, but eventually, age catches up with everyone, even our pets.  Just like people, as dogs grow older their bodies begin to change. It is a subtle process, and often the signs are missed as we go about our daily lives. Awareness of older dog problems and early intervention can help you catch issues while they are easier to treat, cause minor discomfort, and are less expensive.

Below is a list of common health problems, compiled by PetMD, seen in aging dog and their symptoms. If you notice any of these, it is better to err on the side of caution and schedule a visit to your vet.


Any change in your dog’s gait – limping, difficulty standing or walking, or pain in the legs, could be a sign of arthritis. Cartilage between joints acts as a buffer to protect the bones from damage. When that cartilage is damaged it can inflame the joint. Arthritis is the inflammation of one or more joints. It can cause swelling, stiffness and pain. Symptoms may include limping or a change in gait, reluctance to move, aversion to stairs, difficulty standing or walking, and exhibiting pain when picked up. A dog may lick or chew at the aching joint and can show irritability or aggression. There are treatments including drugs and changes in diet and exercise.

Gum Disease:           

Gingivitis (gum inflammation) usually precedes periodontitis (gum disease). Gums can become inflamed when mouth bacteria turns into plaque on the teeth. Saliva hardens plaque and creates tartar. Bacteria-laden plaque and tartar on the teeth can spread under the gum line and cause swelling. If not treated, gingivitis can advance to periodontitis, which is when the gums pull away from the teeth. That creates pockets which can become infected and cause bone loss. Symptoms are gums that bleed or are tender, red and swollen. Gum disease can spread infection to the bloodstream and cause serious damage to organs.


Diabetes is caused from poor production and functioning of insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas. Insulin’s job is to help move glucose from the blood into the body’s cells where it is then used for energy. Diabetes most commonly occurs in dogs at the age of 8 or 9 years old. Diabetes can be hereditary and is more common in females. Dog breeds especially prone to diabetes include Samoyeds, Cairn Terriers, Pugs, Toy Poodles and Miniature Schnauzers. Symptoms of diabetes include frequent thirst and increased urination, weight loss, fatigue, irritability, recurring infections, blurred vision, and slow-healing cuts or bruises.


Although distressing, blindness does not have to drastically change the day-to-day living for your senior dog. Blindness can occur over time in some dogs and is best when caught at the onset when the eyes are just beginning to fail so you can start teaching your dog to rely more heavily on his hearing and other senses of smell and touch. Deteriorating eyesight is part of the normal aging process for dogs. One of the early signs can be cataracts. Cataracts make the eye appear to be covered by a white coating. Other signs of vision loss include bumping into things, falling, dilated pupils and red or irritated eyes.

Kidney Disease:

Kidneys remove waste and maintain balance in the body. When kidneys lose their ability to perform, waste and toxins can build up in the body and wreak havoc. This poisoning of the system is referred to as kidney failure. Many things can cause the kidneys to cease doing their job. It can be a kidney stone that blocked off the urinary tract, or rupture of the bladder, or normal aging of the kidneys. Symptoms of kidney stones in dogs can include drinking more water, urinating more, and having accidents in the house. You may see apathy, loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting, and brown discoloring on the tongue and the dog may develop an ammonia smell to their breath.

Remember, as your dog ages, pay particular attention to any change in his mood or behavior as it could be an indication that something is wrong. For more information on this topic, click here.

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