Donna partners with Dr. Cathy Alinovi, a retired veterinarian, to create
informative pet health articles.
Read on to learn how to be helpful to your pet as it ages.
Canine Aging Problems
Those bright eyes that were always so excited to see you return home may have
dimmed or even gone blind. Waking up from naps may involve some painful
stretching and limping, and that once handsome brown muzzle is now grey with
Romps at the dog park have been traded for leisurely strolls for short
distances. Just like humans, as dogs age, they begin to move slower. Hearing
and eyesight may be affected and any number of chronic illnesses or health
conditions could be starting to manifest, such as diabetes or cataracts.
How do you tell if your dog is suffering from a serious health problem or
simply showing the signs of an age-related slowdown? Dr. Cathy Alinovi, the
owner of Healthy PAWsibilities veterinarian clinic, offers tips for
identifying what to expect as your dog ages.
Questions This Article Answers
- What should I expect as my dog ages?
- Which breeds have the shortest life spans?
- Which breeds have the longest life expectancy?
- What signs alert pet parents that their dogs are becoming seniors?
- Are potty changes a sign of aging or behavioral problems?
- What are some of the most common health problems of senior dogs?
- What types of medical problems do vets check for during a senior checkup?
- How often should senior dogs see their vets?
- Should aging dogs continue to receive vaccinations on a regular basis?
- How do dietary and exercise regimens need to be modified for older dogs?
- What suggestions do you have for caring for an aging dog?
Although Bernese Mountain dogs typically have short lifespans, this one is 12
Walter J. Pilsak, Waldsassen (Publisher) under CC-BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia
Commons – Walter J. Pilsak, Waldsassen (Publisher)
1. What Should I Expect as my Dog Ages?
Dr. Cathy : Our expectation is for our dogs to have great quality of life
as they age. They should have fun; they should want to do their favorite
things all the way until the end. Normal expectations are gray muzzles, some
signs of arthritis, or dirty teeth. If we catch illness early, there is a
chance we can provide a better quality of life for as long as possible.
Graying muzzles are one of the signs of any aging dog.
By Trevor Hurlbut (Flickr: noah (1 of 1)) [CC-BY-2.0
2. Which Breeds Have the Shortest Life Spans?
Dr. Cathy : Sadly, the larger the breed is, the shorter the lifespan is.
For example, some genetic lines of Great Danes and St Bernard’s are only with
us for two years. See the table below for a list of the shortest-lived breeds.
Shortest Lived Dog Breeds
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Dogue de Bordeaux
- Great Danes
- Irish Wolfhound
- Neopolitan Mastiff
- St. Bernard
3. Which Breeds Have the Longest Life Expectancy?
Small breeds live the longest and their owners can expect their dogs to live
up to 18 years. (See table below for some examples of breeds with long life
Long Living Dog Breeds
- Boston Terriers
- Lhasa Apsos
- Miniature Poodles
- Miniature Schnauzers
4. What Signs Alert Pet Parents That Their Dogs are Becoming Seniors?
Dr. Cathy : The most common signs are graying muzzles and slowing down.
While slowing down is not a positive sign for senior dogs, it is a sign that
we need to take preventative measures.
Canine Life Expectancy
5. Are Potty Changes a Sign of Aging or Behavioral Problems?
Dr. Cathy : They can be a sign of either one. In aging, our dogs do become
arthritic, which makes it hard to hunch and get all of the waste products out.
Some dogs end up with bladder infections. Some dogs walk and poop, some dogs
leak urine. Some dogs lose the ability to know they have to go to the
6. What are Some of the Most Common Health Problems of Senior Dogs?
Dr. Cathy : Some typical health issues for geriatric dogs are:
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- Congestive heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
- Dental disease
7. What Types of Medical Problems do Vets Check for During a Senior
Dr. Cathy : First, we check the dog’s mental abilities by observing how he
or she processes everyone in the room. Next, we check the mouth and evaluate
the teeth. Listen to the heart and lungs and evaluate for heart murmur and
lung sounds. Look at posture and for signs of pain. If anything is off, we
recommend bloodwork, urinalysis, and x-rays to better identify the health
8. How Often Should Senior Dogs see Their Vets?
Dr. Cathy : Senior dogs should have a checkup every six months. Remember
that one year of a dog’s life is comparable to seven years of life for humans.
As we age, it would be ludicrous to imagine we would only go to our doctor
once every seven years. The goal with routine health care is to catch problems
early for better health and quality of life.
Even though your dog is getting older, he or she may still enjoy a short romp
Bill Harrison under CreativeCommons license via Flickr
9. Should Aging Dogs Continue to Receive Vaccinations on a Regular Basis?
Dr. Cathy : Vaccinations do protect young dogs from disease; studies show
the protection from vaccines last many years. Vaccines contain chemicals,
dyes, and preservatives that may do more damage the longer they are used.
Because older age diseases are not illnesses for which the dog can be
vaccinated, that should not be the focus of veterinary visits. The only caveat
is to make sure you are in compliance with local laws regarding rabies. If you
have to get your dog vaccinated for rabies, do insist on three-year rabies
vaccines, and ask for thimerosal-free vaccines. (Thimerosal is a preservative,
which contains mercury.)
10. How do Dietary and Exercise Regimens Need to be Modified for Older
Dr. Cathy : Older dogs still need exercise, just not the rough, vigorous
play they used to do. The more the body moves, the better it works, the better
the body works, the better the brain.
Diet is not as complicated as pet food companies want us to think. Because our
older dogs do not run and play as much as they used to, they need fewer
However, quality protein should not be replaced with grains and fillers, so-
called fiber. Exercise helps dogs poop, not necessarily fiber.
Fiber is actually a misnomer because the dog’s body interprets fiber as
carbohydrates. Carbohydrates lead to weight gain, which is the last thing an
older dog needs.
11. What Suggestions do you Have for Caring for an Aging Dog?
Dr. Cathy : If you see a behavior change, just the slightest thing,
because you know your dog better than any one, you know it is a sign of a
problem. The sooner you act, the better your chance of helping your dog and
having more quality time together. Most of the older age diagnoses are not end
of life sentences.
For example, congestive heart failure means diet and medication, just as for
humans. Kidney failure means diet. Liver failure means diet and medication.
One final thing to remember: there are many options besides conventional
medicine to treat many of these conditions. CoQ10 and a low salt diet work as
well or better than blood pressure medication in some cases of congestive
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can help quite well in kidney failure. Animal
chiropractic and elk velvet antler can work wonders on the arthritic dog.
These examples are just a sampling to show there are more options than simply
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It
is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription,
or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional.
Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a
© 2014 Donna Cosmato
Share your experiences with senior dogs
Catherine on June 04, 2016:
We have a 14 year old female bullyx named cheeky. She has been the most
wonderful family member to us all . Our youngest of 5 sons in now 10 and
cheeky has been there right through every milestone . She has always been our
farm dog , always in the go , always in the middle of our family gatherings,
running through the middle of our crickey games or sliding down the waterslide
with the kids at Xmas time. Now she is finding it hard to see , hear and
differentiate night to day and is barking at the sky or the wall. We have to
Bring her inside each night to lay by the fire as she barks for no reason .
She is hard to wake and sometimes wonders. Cheeky also pee’s on the back step
when she wants to come in. It is getting awaful tiresome as I am up most of
the night calming her to sleep . I also start work early hrs of the morn and
taking care of my husband with chronic back injury and waiting for a knee
replacement . I don’t know what to do with our beautiful old girl , the
thought of her getting worse is breaking our hearts- but my sanity is starting
to break too. We love her so much but maybe the time has come to put her to
gentle sleep . Can anyone shed some light on this situation for me please
Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on February 15, 2015:
Thank you for sharing your experience with your senior dog mhiki. We’ve been
using bone broth for ourselves but I had not thought about giving it to my
Chihuahua. I have her on a probiotic that “cured” the “pancreatitis” the vet
thought she had. Best of luck to you in using natural, nutritious foods to
care for your Corgi. May she live long and provide you with many more years of
joy and companionship.
mhikl from Calgary, Canada on February 12, 2015:
My Corgi Pem turned 14, 2015 Jan 20, and though her hearing is decreasing she
can hear my loud high whistles. Her eyes look clear. She suddenly slowed down,
age 10, when she slipped on ice and tore or hurt something in her right
shoulder. She has a strong heart still.
Last year the length of walking/running/snooping distance decreased.
I had began feeding her beef bone and ligament/tendon broth four years a go to
help her hurt/torn right front shoulder, but it did little if any good. Then,
this past summer (2014) bored with crock potting the broth, I chopped up the
kilo of beef ligament/tendons I had, very fine, dried them and then began
giving Sadie about 40-50gr of them a day, reconstituted in warm water- but
Within 3 days I no longer had to carry her up the stairs and she could finish
a whole walk without every having to be carried home. It seems there is
something in ‘raw’ as opposed to cooked ligaments, etc. for I am doing the
same thing and my left torn hip (done age 30 whilst working overseas in
Sarawak, no doctors in area) is no longer painful and I can walk further than
before though I still limp.
I want my little girl to last at least another 3 years (to age 17); then I
shall be ready to say good-bye. My last part-Corgy lived until she got a rare
liver cancer. I blame commercial dog food (best recommended, low cal dog food
by my vet—great guy)
Sadie began the BARF diet around age 9. Maybe she will make it to 17 on this
better health diet.
Her only problem is that her teeth are not good but I cannot afford the
thousands to have them pulled and I also worry about the trauma it would cost
her should I have them pulled.
She, as I, is taking a natural diet with support for toxins, worms infections
etc. which seem to really work. Borax is a vital part of detoxing both our
bodies. Read Walter Lasts “Borax Conspiracy” on line to find out about it.
Namaste and care,
Judy Specht from California on September 23, 2014:
Good knowledge to have. Thanks.
Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on July 03, 2014:
Hello Aaron…I’m so sorry for your loss! Sixteen years is a long time to
share with a faithful companion, and I cannot say I “know how you feel.”
You’re right that one should consider a dog’s longevity stats before making a
decision to add him or her as a member of the family. Best wishes to you and
your family for the future.
Aaron Sparks on July 02, 2014:
My dog just died after being with my family for 16 years!
it is very difficult to overcome his death…
i guess what i’m trying to say here is mostly for those of you who don’t have
a dog but considering getting one- don’t do that if you don’t think you can
cope the day he will be leaving tour family…
i don’t think i’ll ever have another dog, the sense of loss was just to much
the first time..
Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on June 29, 2014:
Thanks, Chatkat, for reading and commenting on this hub, especially since you
mention you are a cat person rather than a dog person. I’m glad you found it
Kathy from California on June 28, 2014:
Wow very informative reading. I have always loved all animals but recently,
living close to my son and family I have grown to love their dogs. Always the
cat lady, I have been learning so much about dogs lately and your hub really
expands upon and confirms some of the doggy data I have heard. Thanks for
publishing such a well organized and complete piece on a topic that commands
Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on June 25, 2014:
Thanks for sharing about your precious pet, mary615. I hope she has a long and
happy life as your loving companion.
Mary Hyatt from Florida on June 24, 2014:
I have a Miniature Schnauzer and I’ m glad to know her life expectancy is
pretty good. She is 7 years old and still loves her daily walks and plays
fetch with her tennis ball for at least 1/2 hour every evening.
Very interesting Hub. Voted UP, etc.
Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on June 24, 2014:
Thank you, eirevet, for reading and voting on this hub on dog health!
eirevet from Ireland on June 24, 2014:
Good insight into some of the changes in elderly dogs. Voted up and useful