Common Older Dog Ailments

Most canines that live long enough will experience some of the common older dog ailments associated with the aging process. Proper veterinary care and diet may reduce the chance of developing some conditions or alleviate symptoms of existing conditions. Dog ailments that are not treatable may be managed by providing a less stressful environment.


Cataracts manifest in geriatric canines as frequently as they do in humans. Early detection may be corrected with surgery. Cataracts impair vision and eventually lead to blindness. Symptoms of cataracts are:

  • Eyes look cloudy or opaque
  • Bumping into furniture and other stationary objects
  • Inability to locate and retrieve objects

The inability to see clearly can be very frustrating to a pet. A dog with vision impairment will fare better and learn to navigate if furniture remains in the same location.


Obesity can lead to other serious problems related to aging. Pet owners often become less concerned about the quality and quantity of food in the diet of an aging pet. Nutrient requirements change throughout a dog's lifetime. Proper diet and weight control will keep dogs healthier and more active in their geriatric years. 


Arthritis is one of the more common older dog ailments. There is no cure and treatment usually consists of therapies aimed at reducing pain and inflammation. Obesity can increase pressure, causing more pain in the joints. Symptoms of arthritis include:

  • Difficulty moving from a sitting to standing position
  • Slower start and gait
  • Inability to climb stairs 

Diabetes Mellitus

Older and obese dogs are at risk of developing diabetes. This type of diabetes occurs when the pancreas ceases to produce sufficient amounts of insulin. Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Weight loss
  • Abnormal appetite

Diabetes is fatal, if not treated. This condition can lead to kidney failure. It is usually controlled with insulin and a modified diet. 

Heart Disease

A frequent cardiac condition that affects older canines involves cardiac valvular function. Valves that are not working properly can lead to heart failure. Symptoms of heart disease may include the following:

  • Breathing is difficult
  • Chronic cough
  • Lethargy
  • Panting
  • Sudden periodic loss of consciousness

Heart disease is often treated with diuretics and cardiac medications. 

Thyroid Disorder

The most common thyroid disorder found in senior dogs is hypothyroidism. This occurs when the thyroid stops producing a sufficient amount of hormones. It can be caused by weight, atrophy of the thyroid gland and cancer. Dogs with hypothyroidism generally have the following symptoms:

  • Dry, scaly or flaky skin
  • Lethargy
  • Weight gain
  • Thinning of hair

Hypothyroidism is treated with synthetic thyroid hormones. 

Tumors and Skin Growths

Many older canines will develop some type of skin growth, lump or tumor. Benign lipomas are fatty deposits under the skin. Skin tags are also common in dogs. Any growth should be monitored. Changes in color, size and symmetry may indicate a cancerous condition and should be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately. 


Many dogs gradually lose hearing, as they grow older. Causes of hearing loss can only be determined through examination.

Urinary Incontinence

Many dog ailments can contribute to urinary incontinence. Bladder infection is one of the most common causes of incontinence, but it may also be a symptom of a more serious condition.