10 Common Health Issues in Senior Dogs [+Signs, Causes & Prevention]

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vet checking golden retrievers heart with a statoscope

As dogs age, they’re prone to developing certain conditions. Some arise due to degenerative changes, while others are the result of slowing body processes.

The most common health issues in senior dogs include:

  • Obesity
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Periodontal disease
  • Canine cognitive dysfunction
  • Deafness
  • Blindness

This article will review common health problems in senior dogs and discuss symptoms, causes, prevention, treatment, and more. After that, I’ll list the common signs to watch for and tell you about common causes of health issues in seniors. To help you keep your furbaby as healthy as possible in his senior years, I’ll give you some healthcare recommendations and tips for prevention.

Common Health Problems

Older dogs experience certain conditions as their bodies slow down and deteriorate. Below are conditions that commonly affect canines in their senior years.


Dogs are considered obese when their body weight is more than 20% greater than their breed and gender’s recommended weight.

 Obesity can affect dogs at any age, but it is more common in seniors.

Signs of obesity include:

  • Weight gain
  • Lack of a visible waist or indentation after the ribcage when looking from above
  • Ribs are difficult to feel or can’t be palpated under the fur 
  • Backbone is difficult to feel or not palpable under the fur
  • Large fat deposits over the base of the tail, backbone, and ribs

Causes of obesity in dogs include age, medical conditions like hypothyroidism, reduced activity levels, and genetic predispositions. Beagles, Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, Golden Retrievers, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and Labrador Retrievers are at higher risk for obesity.

Allowing dogs to become or remain obese puts strain on the joints and heart. Left untreated, the condition can contribute to heart disease and exacerbate arthritis symptoms.

You may be able to prevent obesity in your dog by limiting treats, not feeding table scraps, exercising your dog daily, reducing portion sizes, and feeding a reduced-calorie formula for weight control.

Obesity treatment involves nutritional consultation with your veterinarian, dietary modifications to reduce your dog’s calorie intake, and an exercise plan.


Senior dogs commonly experience osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD). This condition is a combination of reduced joint fluid, cartilage degeneration, and abnormal bone growth.

Signs of osteoarthritis include:

  • Stiffness, particularly after resting
  • Reduced activity
  • Reluctance to exercise, climb stairs, or jump
  • Lameness or gait changes
  • Whimpering or flinching

Causes of osteoarthritis include age, neuter status, body weight, sex, confirmation, and breed. Predisposed breeds include Rottweilers, Labrador Retrievers, Bull Mastiffs, Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Geran Shepherds, Pomeranians, and French Bulldogs.

Without treatment, osteoarthritis can cause your dog to experience considerable pain and a reduced quality of life.

Preventative measures for DJD include buying puppies from reputable breeders, feeding a balanced diet that promotes healthy bone growth, supplementing with glucosamine and chondroitin, providing your dog with age and breed-appropriate exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Treatment for DJD in dogs includes pain medications, anti-inflammatories, Adequate joint injections, dietary modification and supplements, and physical therapy. Some cases of DJD may require surgical intervention.

Heart disease

Heart conditions in senior dogs often grow progressively worse and lead to congestive heart failure (CHF). With CHF, the heart can’t effectively pump blood through the body, leading to fluid retention around the lungs and increased blood pressure.

Symptoms of heart disease include:

  • Coughing
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Shortness of breath/labored breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Fainting 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

Causes of heart disease and congestive heart failure in dogs include congenital diseases, genetics, nutrition, degenerative conditions, obesity, and age.

Leaving heart disease untreated puts extra stress on the heart and body and often results in a decreased quality of life and eventual death.

Prevention of heart disease in dogs includes feeding a diet that supports heart health, maintaining a healthy body weight, and scheduling regular exams to monitor your dog’s health.

Treatment for heart disease focuses on the underlying condition and may include diuretics, medications to support heart efficiency and drugs that help maintain a normal heart rate.

Kidney disease

As dogs age, their kidneys can slowly deteriorate and lose functionality. When your dog’s kidneys stop functioning properly, they can’t clear toxins from the blood. 

Symptoms of kidney disease in dogs include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Bad breath
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting

Causes of kidney disease include age, trauma, genetics, toxin ingestion, autoimmune diseases, infections, and urinary blockages. Susceptible breeds include Shetland Sheepdogs, Pomeranians, Yorkshire Terriers, and Boxers.

Without medical management of kidney disease, toxins will build up in your dog’s body and damage other organs. 

It’s difficult to prevent kidney disease, but you can take some steps to help your furbaby stay healthy. Feed your dog a well-balanced diet, keep up with annual health checks, and keep toxic substances out of reach.

Kidney disease can’t be cured, but your veterinarian can help you manage it. Treatment includes feeding your pooch a special diet that’s lower in protein and phosphorus, phosphate binders, potassium supplements, fluid therapy, medications for blood pressure, and drugs to treat underlying or secondary conditions.


Cancer involves the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that take over and destroy healthy body tissue. There are various types of cancer, among which lymphoma, mast cell tumors, hemangiosarcoma, and squamous cell carcinoma are common in aging dogs.

Symptoms of cancer in dogs vary depending on the type but usually include:

  • Lumps, bumps
  • Changes in skin color
  • Wounds that won’t heal
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Unexplained lameness
  • Bleeding from body cavities

Causes of cancer include age, genetics, nutrition, environment, and immunologic factors. Predisposed breeds include Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Viszlas, Irish Water Spaniels, Welsh Terriers, and Irish Wolfhounds. 

Without treatment, many forms of cancer will infiltrate healthy tissues and organs, causing your dog pain and reducing his life expectancy.

There’s no known prevention for cancer, but you can keep your dog healthy to fight disease if he develops cancer. Feed a well-balanced diet, exercise your dog regularly, and schedule routine veterinary check-ups.

Cancer treatment varies depending on the type but may include surgical removal of tumors, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.


Diabetes in dogs is usually chronic and arises from the destruction of pancreatic cells that produce insulin. The lack of adequate insulin causes problems with carbohydrate metabolism.

Signs of diabetes in dogs include:

  • Increased thirst/drinking
  • Increased urination
  • Increased appetite 
  • Weight loss 
  • Recurrent infections(especially urinary tract infections)

Causes of diabetes in dogs include obesity, genetics, and chronic pancreatic infection.

Leaving diabetes untreated in dogs can cause dangerously high levels of sugar in the blood. Long term, this can cause damage to various organs and reduce your dog’s life expectancy.

Diabetes prevention in dogs includes reducing high-fat treats and keeping your dog at a healthy weight.

Treatment of diabetes focuses on insulin replacement and weight management.

Periodontal disease

According to Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine,  80-90% of dogs older than 3 years suffer from periodontal disease, and it’s even more prevalent in seniors. Dental disease is inflammation and decay of the gums and teeth due to the accumulation of plaque and tartar. 

Signs of periodontal disease in dogs include:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Bad breath
  • Discolored teeth
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Red, inflamed gums
  • Blood in the saliva

Causes of periodontal disease in dogs include buildup of food and bacteria that cause plaque, metabolic diseases, teeth crowding, and genetics. Breeds that are predisposed to the condition include brachycephalic breeds like Pugs, Yorkies, Dachshunds, and Shih Tzus. 

Dental treatment will progress if it’s left untreated. The teeth will decay, and the gums will become inflamed. Over time, infections can lead to other health problems.

Prevention of periodontal disease includes brushing teeth daily, giving your dog treats and toys that help to scrape the teeth and remove plaque, and feeding a special diet for dental health. You should also schedule annual visits with your veterinarian that include dental exams and cleaning.

Treatment for dental disease in dogs varies depending on the severity of your dog’s condition. It may include dental and deep pocket cleaning, oral antibiotics, antibiotic gels, and tooth extraction.

Canine cognitive dysfunction

As dogs age, they can experience cognitive decline similar to dementia or Alzheimer’s in humans.

Signs of cognitive dysfunction include:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • House soiling
  • Pacing or wandering
  • Increased vocalizing
  • Repetitive behaviors

Canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) is caused by age-related degeneration of neurons in the brain. 

Without treatment, CCD may progress more rapidly and negatively impact your dog’s quality of life.

Because CCD is part of the aging process, it’s difficult to prevent. However, you may be able to slow the progress of the disease with early intervention.

Treatment for CCD may include prescription diets that support brain health, anti-anxiety medications, Selegiline to treat CCD, and brain enrichment toys or activities. 


Aging dogs gradually lose hearing as the nerves in their ear slowly deteriorate.

Signs of deafness may start gradually and build over time. Symptoms include:

  • Ignoring cues and commands
  • Confusion
  • Not responding to sounds that used to excite your dog, like rattling food bags or car keys.
  • Sleeping more soundly

Causes of deafness in senior dogs may be trauma-related but are usually related to degenerative age changes.

There is no way to prevent age-related deafness.

Deafness in dogs cannot be treated, but you can take action to improve your dog’s quality of life. Teach him hand signals in the home, always approach your dog with heavy steps so they can feel the approaching vibrations, and don’t let your dog off-leash when outdoors.


Similar to deafness, aging dogs can gradually lose their eyesight and become blind.

Signs of fading eyesight and blindness include:

  • Difficulty finding toys and food/water dishes
  • Bumping into objects
  • Anxiousness/clinginess
  • Reluctance to jump off furniture or use the stairs

Causes of blindness can be age-related degeneration, injury, cataracts, glaucoma, ulcers, progressive retinal atrophy, and retinal detachment.

Leaving eye diseases untreated can eventually lead to irreversible eye damage and blindness.

You may be able to prevent or slow the progression of blindness in your dog by scheduling regular checkups that include eye exams, treating eye diseases as soon as possible, and feeding a balanced diet rich in antioxidants and nutrients that support healthy vision.

If your dog suffers from an eye disease like ulcers or cataracts, treatment may include medications or surgical intervention. You can’t treat age-related blindness, but you can manage it by not rearranging furnishings in your home, making sounds when you approach your dog, and using tactile markers at the top of stairs.  

Senior Health Problem Signs Dog Parents Should Beware of

The earlier you catch health problems in your senior dog, the easier it will be for you to help him enjoy a higher quality of life.

  • Weight gain
  • Stiffness, particularly after resting
  • Reduced activity
  • Reluctance to exercise, climb stairs, or jump
  • Coughing
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Shortness of breath/labored breathing
  • Weight loss
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Bad breath
  • Lumps, bumps
  • Changes in skin color
  • Wounds that won’t heal
  • Recurrent infections
  • Excessive drooling
  • Discolored teeth
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • House soiling
  • Ignoring cues and commands
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty finding toys and food/water dishes
  • Bumping into objects

Common causes of Senior Health Problems

The top cause of health problems in senior dogs starts with age-related degeneration. Other common factors include.

  • Genetic or breed predispositions
  • Injury
  • Infections
  • Metabolic diseases

Senior Health Care Tips and Problem Prevention

Here are some tips to help you protect your dog and promote a high-quality life. 

  • Feed your dog a well-balanced diet that includes nutrients that support organ and joint health.
  • Schedule annual health exams and stay up-to-date on vaccinations.
  • Provide your dog with appropriate levels of exercise for his breed and age.
  • Deal with reputable breeders to select a puppy that doesn’t have a family history of health problems.

The Final Woof

As dogs age, they can experience a range of health issues, including obesity, osteoarthritis, cancer, and cognitive dysfunction. Understanding each condition and knowing common signs of trouble can help you recognize problems and seek treatment as soon as possible. You can also follow some basic healthcare practices to help your furbaby have a high quality of life.

Photo of author
Dr. Libby Guise earned her DVM from the University of Minnesota in 1994. After working in private practice in Wisconsin for two years, she joined the USDA as a Veterinary Medical Officer. In 2011, Libby came home to focus on raising and teaching her adoptive daughter. She lives in Wisconsin with her daughter, husband, and two furbabies: Charis, a lab-mix rescue pup, and Chesed, a Springer Spaniel.

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