Common Health Issues Affecting Senior Dogs

Posted by Dr. Roth on

Common Health Issues Affecting Senior Dogs

There’s an old belief that dogs age about seven years for each year of their lives. While that might not be quite accurate, dogs do age faster than humans. While size and breed play a role, they typically reach “senior” status around seven years old.

The biggest indication that a dog is getting older is the emergence of chronic age-related health problems. Here are some of the most common health issues affecting senior dogs.



Osteoarthritis is a progressive degenerative condition that develops as the cartilage between the joints wears away. It typically occurs in the weight-bearing joints, including the hips, knees, and elbows.

The breakdown of cartilage allows the bones to rub against one another. That leads to inflammation, a more limited range of motion, and pain. A dog may limp, move more slowly, or become agitated if someone touches a sore spot. While there is no cure for it, a pet parent can take steps to manage osteoarthritis. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements, for instance, can help support joint health.



Many older dogs develop lumps and bumps on their bodies. While not all of them are cause for concern, some of these growths may be cancerous. They can understandably cause panic to pet parents, but it's always good to get them checked out before getting too worried.

According to the Veterinary Cancer Society, one in four dogs will be diagnosed with cancer. It’s the leading cause of death in senior dogs.

Benign (Non-Cancerous) Tumors

Sebaceous adenoma is a growth of the oil-producing glands in the skin. It can develop almost anywhere on the body but occurs most frequently on the head, neck, eyelids, back, and limbs.

A lipoma is a benign tumor or mass that develops under the skin’s surface. It’s typically soft to the touch and moveable. The tumor can appear anywhere on the body, but it’s more common in areas with more fat.

In most cases, these benign tumors are harmless and don’t require treatment following a diagnosis. However, a sebaceous adenoma can sometimes become irritated, ulcerated, or infected, and a large lipoma can begin limiting a dog’s movement or causing pain. In such cases, surgical removal is an option.

Malignant (Cancerous) Tumors

A carcinoma is a tumor of the skin cells that can develop almost anywhere on a dog’s body. Sarcomas develop on the connective, muscle, or nervous tissues. Unfortunately, many pet parents don’t notice these growths until they’ve become a significant problem. A vet can diagnose them with a fine needle aspiration or biopsy followed by a radiograph and ultrasound.

Treatment for a cancerous growth will often involve a surgical removal. Radiation therapy or chemotherapy may also be necessary. The earlier it is addressed, the better.


Dental Disease

Dental or periodontal (gum) disease affects many senior dogs. As plaque accumulates on the teeth and hardens into tartar, the gums become irritated and inflamed. As the condition worsens, it can lead to pain, trouble eating, root rot, and tooth loss. Some dogs can even develop severe infections that require dental extractions.

A pet parent can help to prevent dental disease with good oral hygiene practices. Routine, professional dental cleanings are also beneficial.


Nuclear Sclerosis

Nuclear sclerosis refers to the compression or hardening of the lenses in a dog’s eyes. Considered a normal change, it manifests as a bluish haze or cloudiness. While it can become more noticeable over time, most dogs will only have minor changes in their eyesight. Generally, vision loss occurs as a result of other conditions, not nuclear sclerosis alone.

Many pet parents mistake nuclear sclerosis for cataracts, especially as it becomes more apparent. However, they aren’t the same thing. A vet can diagnose the condition with an eye exam and pupil dilation.


Urinary or Urethral Incontinence

Urinary or urethral incontinence is the involuntary loss of bladder control, resulting in urine leakage. A pet parent may notice a wet spot on their dog’s bedding after they get up from sleeping. Or, they might witness them dribbling urine after they finish urinating. It may occur as a result of weakening bladder muscles, neurological conditions, urinary tract infections, or urethral disorders.

Mitral Insufficiency

Mitral insufficiency (mitral valve disorder) is a heart condition characterized by the gradual thickening of the valve separating the left ventricle from the left atrium. That can lead to a “leak” in the heart. Eventually, the left atrium can become enlarged, and the lungs can begin filling with fluid. A condition that generally affects smaller breeds, the earliest symptom is typically a heart murmur. As it progresses, it can lead to congestive heart failure.


Weight-Related Health Problems

In general, overweight or obese dogs tend to have a greater risk of developing various health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, renal dysfunction, and more. Older dogs are at a greater risk of weight gain and obesity, and it can be harder for them to lose weight, putting them at even greater risk of developing other health issues.


Keep Dogs Happy and Comfortable Well Into Their Senior Years

While some health issues are a natural part of aging, pet parents can support their dogs as they get older. Addressing any unusual symptoms right away is crucial. The earlier a pet parent seeks advice and a diagnosis for a health concern, the easier it will be to manage. That way, the pet parent can help an aging dog enjoy their golden years to the fullest. Pet parents can get expert advice 24/7 through Fuzzy Vet Chat for additional support with their senior dog's health and wellness needs. 

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