12 Common Health Conditions in Senior Dogs

12 Common Health Conditions in Senior Dogs

As every dog lover knows, senior dogs give unconditional love, loyalty, and emotional support to their pet parents. These four-legged friends also provide warmth and companionship, and a serene, calming presence often accompanies their golden years.

But senior pets have different health concerns than their younger counterparts. Older dogs need extra care in their later years since aging slows them down. Some canines can't move quickly because of arthritis pain. Others suffer from changes in their eyesight, smell, and hearing. Here are 12 common problems that affect senior dogs. 

1. Arthritis

Just like people, dogs develop arthritis in their later years. The disorder is an inflammation of one or more joints. Osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease is the most common form of arthritis in older dogs. The condition wears away at the cartilage and causes a loss of lubricating fluids and abnormal bone growth. This illness impacts all weight-bearing joints like the knees, hips, elbows, and shoulders.

Symptoms include:

  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty walking or standing
  • Pain when picked up
  • Limping
  • Change of gait
  • Reluctance to move
  • Aversion to stairs

Osteoarthritis is progressive, which means it gets worse over time. Diet and exercise can improve the condition. There are also new innovative treatments that can treat arthritis in pets like stem cell therapy. A veterinarian injects the stem cells directly into the inflamed area to facilitate healing.

Stem Cell Therapy for Arthritis

South Boston Animal Hospital now provides MediVet Biologics stem cell therapy for dogs with chronic conditions like arthritis. Our veterinary practice is the only one in the area to offer this revolutionary treatment.

What are Stem Cells?

Stem cells are the body's raw materials. They are blank slates that can produce different cell types under the right conditions.

The daughter cells form new stem cells (self-renewal) or specialized (differentiation) ones with functions like blood cells, heart muscle cells, bone cells, and brain cells. No other body cells have the natural ability to generate new cell types like stem cells.

What Happens During the Aging Process?

Most dogs lose stem cells during the aging process. MediVet therapy isolates stem cells from your dog's fatty areas to repair damage from degenerative diseases like osteoarthritis.

What is the Procedure Like?

This 15-minute procedure is safe and minimally invasive. Our veterinarians harvest stem cells from your dog's fatty areas (adipose-derived). We place them into diseased areas to facilitate healing. Ninety-five percent of dogs that received MediVet stem cell therapy saw improvement.

2. Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney (renal) disease is another issue that aging dogs can face. These organs remove waste from the body. When they stop functioning, toxins can build up. Kidney issues begin as renal insufficiency then turns into full failure. Dogs can also develop kidney stones that block the urinary tract or cause vessels to rupture.

Most veterinarians can identify renal changes through routine blood work. There is no cure for kidney disease. Veterinarians can prolong your pet's quality of life by providing treatments to slow the progression of the disease.

Signs of kidney disease in senior dogs include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Incontinence
  • Anorexia (loss of appetite)
  • Nausea
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting

3. Cancer

Senior dogs have an increased risk of developing cancer. It is the leading cause of death in older dogs. Different cancers can cause a variety of symptoms.

During a routine screening, your veterinarian will conduct exams, diagnostic imaging, and lab tests to detect cancer. Treatment options vary depending on the disease type and its progression. Pets with earlier cancer stages have better survival rates.

Cancer signs include:

  • Lumps or bumps on body
  • Changes in weight
  • Sores that heal slowly
  • Drooling
  • Coughing
  • Excessive panting
  • Difficulty eating
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Blood and mucus in stool

4. Cognitive Dysfunction/Dementia

Many dogs experience cognitive changes as they age. Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS), or dementia, is a medical disease that causes memory loss, personality changes, confusion, and disorientation.

This condition resembles Alzheimer's Disease in humans. The signs are subtle at first, then grow severe. They include:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Going to the wrong side of open doors
  • Vocalization
  • Withdrawal
  • Fecal accidents
  • Urinary issues
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Restlessness
  • Not interacting with family

These symptoms can also be signs of other problems. Take your pet to the vet as soon as possible if you suspect your pet has dementia. Although there is no cure, our veterinarians can provide supplements and medications that can offer some assistance. 

5. Failing Vision

Some senior dogs gradually lose their vision due to degenerative changes in the eye. Cataracts can also cause these vision losses. 

Unfortunately, veterinarians can do nothing to reverse blindness caused by old age. Even though dogs rely on the other senses, you can protect your pet by keeping it on a leash at all times when venturing outdoors. Additionally, if your dog has lost its eyesight, don't move around furniture in your house so your pet can adjust to the layout. 

BONUS: Caring For Your Senior Pet: A Checklist


6. Hearing Loss

Most older dogs lose their hearing due to nerve degeneration. There are no medical treatments to stop deafness, but a few things can help your pet to adapt to hearing loss.

Many pet owners mistake hearing loss as a sign of dementia or similar conditions. Deafness in pets is easy to handle. Pet owners can use deaf dog training (like the use of hand signals) to communicate with their pet.


  • Your dog doesn't respond to everyday sounds
  • Your pet doesn't come when you call it
  • Your pet doesn't react to the sounds of squeaky toys
  • Your pet doesn't awake to loud noises

7. Heart Disease

Dogs can develop degenerative canine heart disease due to aging, disease, parasites, or other damage. A common cardiac-related issue is mitral valve disease. Almost 30 to 75 percent of senior dogs will develop this illness.

Smaller dogs have an increased risk of developing heart-related problems. Age causes the cardiac valves to become thicker and less elastic. Once this happens, blood leaks backward into the left atrium. The chamber enlarges and puts extra strain on the heart. Untreated elderly dogs will develop congestive heart failure.

Symptoms include:

  • Exercise intolerance
  • Lethargy
  • Heavy panting
  • Coughing 

8. Diabetes

This illness occurs when a dog's body doesn't produce enough insulin to move glucose from the bloodstream and use it for energy. Diabetes usually affects dogs who are eight and nine years old. The hereditary disease primarily affects female dogs. Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Frequent thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Recurring infections
  • Blurred vision
  • Slow-healing cuts and bruises

Breeds prone to diabetes include:

  • Cairn Terriers
  • Samoyed
  • Pugs
  • Toy Poodles
  • Miniature Schnauzers

9. Dental Disease

Many dogs suffer from dental issues in their older years. Plaque can build up under the gum line, causing the gums to pull away from the teeth. This problem can lead to gingivitis and periodontitis. Symptoms of dental issues include:

  • Bleeding gums
  • Tender, red, and swollen gums
  • Infected pockets
  • Bone Loss

Gum disease presents another danger. The bacteria can spread infection to the bloodstream and damage organs like the heart. Dental health and overall health are linked, which is why it's important to get regular dental check ups for your dog.

10. Incontinence

Older dogs can suffer from urinary tract issues due to aging muscles, nerves, and organs. If your pet has incontinence issues, take them to the vet. The condition can be a symptom of other serious illnesses. The vet will give your pet a thorough exam to rule out other problems.

Owners should provide their senior dogs with more frequent outdoor bathroom breaks if there are no other issues.

11. Growths and Tumors

Older dogs can develop growths on their body like benign warts, moles or fatty tumors. A veterinarian should biopsy each one to rule out cancer. Most benign growths don't require surgical removal if they don't bother your pet. 

12. Obesity

Dogs can become overweight when they get older because of decreased movement. Obesity can lead to other issues such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease.

Pet owners should decrease the amount of food they give to older dogs to prevent obesity. Make sure your pet gets enough exercise as it ages. For example, take it on several short walks rather than one long walk.

Stay alert to any new symptoms your senior canine companion develops. Bring your senior pet to the veterinarian's office every six months for a wellness checkup to screen for any health-related issues. Contact our office to schedule an annual examination for your pet today.