The Senior Stage

Dogs cycle through their life quickly and they fill our lives with so much joy. It is important to cherish each stage as a dog’s golden years will begin roughly between the ages of 7 and 10.

Just like with us, the ageing process affects dogs. They can become weaker and more vulnerable to infections. Some dogs may slow down, being less keen to exercise and more prone to putting on weight.

During the ageing process less energy is used up, with fat deposits often increasing - this is the reason we see more fatty lumps on older dogs, called lipomas. Your dog's body weight may go up from lack of sufficient exercise and being fed too many treats, or down due to poor digestion or disease. Skin changes often include loss of elasticity, less shiny coat, and the occasional white hairs appearing on and around the muzzle.

Some dogs' moods can change, whilst others age gracefully. Dogs' hearing and eyesight can deteriorate with age leading to raised anxiety levels, so always be cautious around oldies as they may be more prone to panicking - being surprised by a fast approaching, friendly hand, for example.

Larger breeds of dog will typically age faster, with the average lifespan being 11-12 years but some dogs can even make it past 20!

Don't forget older dogs need regular boosters for vaccinations, plus flea and worming treatments too.

Signs of old age (with common causes) can include:

  • reduced appetite
  • increased drinking (which may indicate diabetes, liver/kidney failure)
  • smelly breath
  • losing weight
  • lumps or bumps
  • lethargy
  • exercise intolerance
  • increased tiredness (hypothyroidism)
  • coughing
  • difficulty passing urine or faeces
  • becoming dull
  • disorientated or having trouble with balance
  • or even smelly discharge from the vagina (pyometra)

Sadly, cancer can also affect older dogs. Urinary incontinence affects many elderly female dogs; nerves controlling the bladder neck deteriorate with age, meaning the outflow valve doesn't fully close, resulting in unplanned urine discharge and wetness where they're lying.

Dogs with heart murmurs may possess a leaky heart valve, often asymptomatic for years, but occasionally developing into breathlessness and coughing. This requires further investigation, such as ultrasound and x-rays.

In the last few years there have been massive advances in veterinary treatments, meaning safe long-term drugs are available to help reduce some of these old age effects, keeping our dogs happy, exercising and living longer, healthier lives.