Caring for the cherished older dog

Older dog

The older pet population in the UK is increasing all the time. With the advances in veterinary medicine that are now available, the increased focus on preventative healthcare (such as vaccines and dental care) and the fact that our pets are cherished members of the family, it is happy news that many of our pets are now living well into their teenage years.

With this increase in lifespan comes changes to the requirements that our pets have, including nutrition, exercise, lifestyle and veterinary care to name just a few. Tailoring each of these individually to your pet will ensure that their health is maximised and quality of life is maintained for as long as possible. 

But how can we tell the difference between a ‘normal ageing change’ and something that requires closer attention?

Many changes will develop gradually and increase slowly over time, meaning that they may not always be noticed at first. Some telltale signs that may be seen are listed below:

  • Changed sleep patterns and increased time sleeping
  • Inability to jump onto a favourite seat or get up stairs
  • Change in personality
  • Reduction in interest or ability to exercise
  • Loss of house training
  • Disorientation
  • Change in feeding and drinking pattern or preference

Whilst some of these signs may well be just due to old age, they could also be indicators of one of the many conditions that become more common as pets age. Medications and lifestyle changes can successfully help manage many of these changes. Early identification and intervention will help increase the success of any treatment or management programme and mean that your pet can carry on a healthy and active life for longer. 

What can I do if I think my pet is affected by any of these changes?

If you are concerned about your pet’s health then it is wise to bring them to the surgery for a check up. Your pet will also need to continue with their routine vaccine and worming treatments so this presents an ideal time to discuss any changes you may have seen with the vet or nurse. Discussing your pets’ behaviour at home is very important; we can then decide with you if we need to do anything extra for your pet to keep them in tip-top condition.

What can we expect to potentially change in our older pet?

Some changes are more common with ageing than others and are described below. This is not an exhaustive list and if you have any query about your pet’s health then please contact us here at the surgery.


Inflammation and damage within the joint can be a very painful condition. The most common reason this condition develops is due to degeneration of joints as they age. Changes within and around the joint reduce the range of movement in the joint and walking, rising and running can be painful. This may be shown as lameness or inability to get up the stairs or even reluctance to go walking as usual.

Dental disease

Build up of plaque and tartar on teeth eventually leads to gingivitis and periodontitis. This inflammation in the gums will be uncomfortable and severe dental disease (periodontitis) will allow infections and abscesses to occur and eventually teeth to be lost. Your pet may have difficulty eating or resent being handled if his mouth is sore.

Weight gain

Like humans, as dogs age, the metabolism slows. Alongside reduced exercise, this can result in weight gain. An overweight animal increases the strain placed on joints and organs, which can accelerate or cause disease, such as osteoarthritis or to worsen and potentially make other conditions such as diabetes worse.

Organ Disease

It is a fact that as we age, our organs often do not work as well as they once did. The body can cope with this to a degree but once past this point then signs of organ disease will start to show. If you detect any signs it is important to get your animal checked out so that the correct management is started. For example a dog with a cough may have a condition affecting his heart function or one affecting his lungs, such as bronchitis. Each of these conditions can be managed but require different medications and lifestyle changes.

How can we help the ageing pet?

The tips below may help your pet adapt to some of the age-related changes that we may see:

  • Reduced calorie intake – your pet is unlikely to be as active as when they were younger and so their energy requirements are reduced. By feeding a tailored food, such as a senior diet, you prevent weight gain that would put increased strain on joints and organs as well as supporting internal organ function.
  • Dental disease can be much reduced through good dental care – ask our advice. Descaling to initially remove any tartar that builds up followed by regular home care and appropriate feeding to minimise further accumulation of plaque can really help
  • Joint support – anti-inflammatory pain relief medication may be needed if your pet is lame or struggling to get around due to osteoarthritis. Supplements and physiotherapy can also help maintain optimum joint function.
  • Modifying the environment – if your dog is arthritic would he or she benefit from a step or ramp to help them get in to the car or places they cannot jump to? Put food bowls in easy access. Keep routines simple and unchanged.
  • Medications – If a specific problem is diagnosed then these days many of the medical conditions experienced by pets can be successfully managed with appropriate medications to help your pet cope and improve their all important quality of life.

This information is a guide and if you have any concerns about your pet’s health or think that they may be affected by any age-related symptoms or other conditions then please bring them in to the surgery to see us. We can then see whether there is anything requiring treatment and together we can create a plan tailored to your pet to help keep them healthy and happy for as long as possible.