Guide to Dog Aging: What to Expect With a Senior Dog

an older lab mix relaxes in the grass

As pet parents, we recognize the time we have with our dogs is short. One minute you’re welcoming a puppy into your home, and the next, you’re caring for a senior dog. While watching your pet age relatively quickly can be difficult, the abbreviated time we get with our beloved pets ensures we enjoy every. single. moment. You might be asking, is my dog old? When is a dog considered elderly or senior? This guide answers these questions and discusses other issues facing older dogs.

When is a dog considered old?

Until recently, the belief was that for every year we age, our dogs age 7. However, new research indicates this simple ratio is not as cut and dry as they thought. Science shows that dogs actually age differently, with size and breed playing significant roles in the aging process. Of course, other factors like weight and overall health contribute to a dog getting old faster.

Here’s a look at how the age and size of your dog determine their age in human years.

Dog Years Dog Size Human Years
7 Small to medium

Large to very large



10 Small to medium

Large to very large



15 Small to medium

Large to very large



20 Small to medium




Small <20 pounds; medium 21 to 50 pounds; large: 51 to 90 pounds; very large: >90 pounds.

Behavioral Changes in Older Dogs

Like humans, dogs experience behavioral changes as they age. These changes could indicate that your pet has an underlying medical issue or disease. Some possible behavioral changes in elder dogs include:

  • Increased vocalization
  • Increased reaction to sounds
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Increased irritability
  • Decreased interaction w/humans
  • Repetitive activity
  • Decreased response to commands
  • Increased protective/aggressive behavior
  • Changes in sleep cycles
  • Increased anxiety
  • House soiling
  • Increased wandering
  • Decreased self-hygiene/grooming

Suppose your veterinarian ruled out underlying causes and disease. In that case, your dog might be experiencing canine cognitive dysfunction due to changes in the brain similar to those seen in Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Although researchers have yet to fully understand why some animals, including dogs, develop canine cognitive dysfunction, there are specific diets and medications for managing this disease in canines.

Common Physical Signs of Disease to Watch for in Aging Dogs

Along with behavioral changes, your dog will begin to start showing physical signs of aging. These signs, too, are very much like those humans experience in their later years.

Arthritis in dogs

Indications your pet is suffering from arthritis can be mistaken for normal again, so pay attention. If you notice these symptoms for over two weeks, schedule an exam with your vet.

  • Favoring a limb
  • Appears to have stiff or sore joints
  • Difficulty standing or sitting
  • Sleeping more
  • Decreased activity
  • Unexplained weight gain or loss
  • Decreased interest in play
  • Reluctance to run, jump, or climb stairs
  • Decreased alertness
  • Increased irritability or other attitude/behavior changes

Treatments for arthritis for dogs are comparable to those recommended for humans and may involve:

  • Exercising to maintain a healthy weight
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Taking veterinarian-prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Taking supplements such as omega fatty acids, and glucosamine, and chondroitin sulfate

The use of orthopedic beds, raised feeding bowls, ramps or stairs can help an arthritic dog be more comfortable.

Urinary tract disease in dogs

Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are pretty common in dogs. In addition to attempting to urinate repeatedly whenever they go outside, you may notice your pet experiencing:

  • Accidents in the house
  • Weakness
  • Straining to urinate
  • Blood in urine

Incontinence in elderly dogs can become frustrating, especially if your dog starts wetting inside. Again, coping with an old dog can be a challenge, which is why during this time of your dog’s life, it is important to coordinate care with a veterinarian.

Kidney disease/issues/failure in dogs

Physical symptoms of kidney disease in dogs may be easily overlooked in the early stages. However, keeping an eye on your pet’s drinking and urination habits can slow the disease. Watch for:

  • Increased or decreased water consumption
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased or decreased urination (sometimes no urination)
  • Vomiting
  • Pale gums
  • Significant weight loss

Heart disease in dogs

There are many causes like obesity, breed, aging, nutrition, and heart valve problems behind heart disease in dogs. With that said, a few symptoms that can indicate trouble with the heart include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased strength and energy for exercise

Cancer in dogs

Unfortunately, the older a dog gets, the greater their chance of developing cancer. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, roughly 1 in 4 dogs will develop neoplasia, which is the abnormal growth of cells or tissues. In dogs over 10 years of age, those that develop cancer rise to almost half. Common signs of cancer in dogs include:

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Difficulty eating
  • Bleeding from the nose, mouth, or other body openings
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Lumps, bumps, or discolored skin
  • Non-healing wounds
  • Persistent diarrhea or vomiting
  • Sudden changes in weight
  • Unusual swelling, heat, pain, or lameness
  • Visible mass or tumor

Senior Dogs’ Dietary Needs

What should you feed older dogs? Choosing which dog food or diet is best for your dog isn’t as easy as going to the store and grabbing a bag of kibble labeled “senior.” Unlike foods formulated for puppies, food for senior dogs lacks regulation. Because the individual needs vary in senior dogs, the National Research Council and the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) do not have official dietary requirements for older dogs. For this reason, you should talk with your vet about what would be the best diet and supplements for your aging dog.

Geriatric Dog Care

Helping an elderly dog or geriatric dog stay as healthy as possible can keep up its quality of life for years to come. Here are a few things you can do to help ensure your pet stays healthy and happy through all stages of life:

  • Make sure your dog sees the vet for regular checkups, as recommended by your vet.
  • Understand and prepare for your pet to experience life changes (just like us humans) and make adjustments accordingly.
  • Note subtle behavioral or physical changes in your pet, and contact your vet with questions or concerns about your aging pet.
  • Ensure your pet eats a proper diet and enjoys an appropriate amount of exercise or activities daily.
  • As your dog ages, talk to your vet about how to care for a senior dog. Are there supplements you can give to slow or soften the side effects of aging?

The most important thing you can do for your aging pet is spend as much time with them as possible, stealing cuddles and kisses along the way.

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