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10 Symptoms in Older Dogs You Shouldn't Ignore

Talk to Your Vet if You Notice These Symptoms

By September 16, 2012 | See Comments

10 Symptoms in Older Dogs You Shouldn't Ignore

Learn about the symptoms of the most common and the most concerning diseases that can affect your senior dog here.

Struggling to decide whether the changes in your senior's are just normal aging or a more serious senior problem? Many dog owners will ignore the warning signs of an an easily treatable disease because they seem like normal aging. It's an understandable mistake, but when your dog enters “senior-stage” at just six years old, you may want to start to look out for symptoms like lethargy, persistent vomiting or diarrhea, cloudy pupils, frequent urination, weight change, disorientation, slow-healing wounds, and bad breath, as these are often ignored signs of typical age-related diseases. Read on to learn about the symptoms of the most common and the most concerning diseases that affect older dogs, so you’ll be able to discern what’s normal aging and what spells a trip to the vet.

10. If your dog no longer wants to exercise and seems generally lethargic

While this can be a common symptom of aging, it can also be a symptom of serious diseases. Many pet owners overlook this symptom in their senior dog because they write it off as a simple side effect of getting older. Did you know that if your dog has osteoarthritis or hip dysplasia they are trying to hide their pain from you? Dogs evolved to hide pain as a defense mechanism, so you may not notice that they are in pain, even if they have been suffering from hip dysplasia their whole life. Look for bunny hopping, or stiffness, and you may want to ask your vet to inspect your dog, even if the symptoms are fleeting.

Dogs suffering from congestive heart failure will also be uncharacteristically tired and unwilling to exercise. When dogs age, their hearts weaken. Sometimes, their hearts weaken so much that blood backs up in the liver and lungs. If untreated, dogs will cough up a foamy red substance, in an effort to clean out their lungs, since the heart is too weak to circulate blood on its own.

Lethargy can be a symptom of very serious diseases including Cushing’s disease, kidney disease, Addison’s disease, hypothyroidism, or cancer, but it is nonetheless very easy to confuse with decreased energy normal for aging dogs.  It’s a serious, if subtle, symptom, so make sure to ask your vet if you think your dog is missing their normal pep.  

9.  If your dog suffers from persistent vomiting or diarrhea

Vomiting and diarrhea are unpleasant for you and your dog, and sometimes it’s a not-so-serious sign that your best friend has simply been raiding the trash. If your dog consistently deals with vomiting and diarrhea, Addison’s disease may actually be to blame. Dogs suffer from Addison’s disease when their endocrine system doesn’t produce enough hormones for the body to function properly. If your dog does have Addison’s disease, they’ll also show symptoms of lethargy, muscle weakness, low body temperature, and reduced heart rate.

Vomiting and diarrhea can also be symptoms of parasites like intestinal worms, kidney disease, an upper urinary tract infection, or hypothyroidism. If it’s hypothyroidism, your dog will exhibit weight gain, fur loss, lethargy, frequent ear infections, dull coat, thickened skin (especially noticeable around the folds of the eyes), and other symptoms that can be easily mistaken for the natural aging process.

8. If your dog’s pupils begin to cloud

Cloudy pupils are a classic sign of cataracts. While cataracts are not a life threatening condition, if left untreated they can cause serious vision loss and glaucoma in your dog. The early symptoms of cataracts are very subtle; pacing, poor navigation based on poor eyesight, and irritability are the most recognizable. Only in moderately advanced cataracts will the pupils begin to cloud. Because it is very difficult to reverse the effects of cataracts, you may find that you want to keep an eye on your senior’s eyes to protect their vision through the end of their life.

7. If your dog makes frequent, painful attempts at urniation

Frequent attempts at urination can be a sign of many diseases that affect senior dogs. Frequent painful urination can be a sign of a bladder infection. You will also be able to recognize cystitis by the unusual color of your dog's urine. If it’s not cystitis, the problem may be a lower urinary tract infection. Your dog’s urine will appear cloudy, have an unusual odor, and may even contain blood. Like cystitis, dogs suffering from UTIs will need to eliminate frequently, and they may even cry elimination can become so painful. Medications like Proin can help manage urinary incontinence in dogs.

Last but not least, this can be a sign of bladder stones. Bladder stones occur frequently in aging dogs, especially in older male dogs. Look out for painful frequent urination, weakness, lethargy, loss of appetite, and blood in your dog’s urine.

6. If your dog can no longer control urination

Urinary incontinence can be frustrating for you and your dog, but remember that it’s a common problem for aging dogs. Your dog may not even be aware that they have eliminated on themselves. Urine may simply escape against their will. Urinary incontinence, however, is also a symptom of kidney disease. Your dog might also show significantly increased thirst, decreased appetite, lethargy, vomiting, and fever. Catching kidney disease early is important in preventing kidney failure, which can be extremely damaging, even life threatening, to your dog.

Remember, if your dog is having a bladder problem, they probably will have an accident in the house, no matter how well they’ve been potty trained.  You may not realize it, but punishing these mistakes can compound stress your dog is already feeling around eliminating in the wrong spot.

5.  If your dog loses weight

Generally seniors will lose or gain a little bit of weight as they age, but weight loss is a significant symptom for many serious diseases that affect older dogs. If your dog exhibits increased thirst, increased appetite, and they lose weight, they could be suffering from diabetes. Because diabetic dogs cannot properly absorb sugar, your dog may be suffering from malnutrition, even if they’re eating heartily. If diabetes (and malnutrition alongside it) progresses untreated, the effects of malnutrition may actually suppress their appetite.

Unintentional weight loss in your dog can also be a symptom of bladder stones, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, an upper urinary tract infection, or Cushing’s disease.

4. If your dog gains weight

Many dogs gain weight as a part of the normal aging process, but it's also a symptom of hypothyroidism. Nonetheless, obesity itself can put a very large strain on your dog’s body. Obesity contributes to bone and joint problems like osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia, it weakens cardiovascular health, and makes it more difficult for pets do exercise. Checking your senior’s figure to prevent excessive weight gain can prevent quite a few other diseases.

3. If your dog seems unusually disoriented

Cognitive dysfunction, similar to Alzheimer’s for dogs, can occur if your dog’s mental faculties begin to decline. Fifty percent of all dogs over ten years of age exhibit at least one symptom of cognitive dysfunction, which means that the older your dog gets, the more likely they will suffer from this condition. Look for behavioral changes, increased hours of sleeping within a 24 hour period, decreased sleep at night, tremors, pacing, and poor potty training habits as these are all symptoms of cognitive dysfunction.

2. If your dog has a wound that just won’t heal

Dogs, like humans, are much more likely to develop cancer as they get older. Similar to cognitive dysfunction, fifty percent of dogs over ten years old will develop cancer at some point in their lifetime. It’s a disease that’s most easily treated when caught early, so you’ll want to be on the lookout for lumps, tumors, lameness and enlarged lymph nodes. Since these can be difficult symptoms to recognize, especially in older dogs, keeping a close eye on your dog’s wounds is a good way to gague for cancer, since the decreased immune function associated with cancer will keep your dog’s wounds from healing in a normal amount of time.

1. If your senior’s dog breath is just too smelly

Most dogs, especially the dumpster-divers, have bad breath, but excessively smelly breath is a symptom of the most common ailment in older dogs: periodontal disease. Luckily, this disease is easier to spot than many other age-related diseases, so be on the lookout for pain while chewing, loss of appetite, tooth loss, bleeding gums, difficulty chewing, or chewing only on one side of the mouth, as these are common symptoms of periodontal disease.

How PetPlus Can Help

No matter what the condition, if your senior dog is in any kind of pain, PetPlus can help. Whether it be Rimadyl for their joint pain, Soloxine for their tyroid, or Norvasc for their heart condition, PetPlus has everything your dog could need. And because it is a membership program, PetPlus can give you these same medications at a substantial discount -- some as high as 89% off!

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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard or delay seeking professional advice due to what you may have read on our website.


15 yo schauzer panting, knocking over water bowl, shaking, pacing.. ???
Don't know what's wrong with her


I have a Australian Shepard who is approx. 14 yrs. old. She has always been extremely active & has slowed down some considering her age. She eats good, amounts have always depended on the outside temperature but always maintained a healthy weight. She has lost weight more than usual even though her eating habits haven't changed. Her coat is healthy & still has quite a bit of energy. I have medicated her for various worms including tape worm. I see no reason for her weight loss other than a normal aging process. Any feed back would be much appreciated. I can't afford $200.00 + for a trip to the vet. Her over all health seems to be very good.


I don't know if this will be helpful but I hope it will. I had a dog several years ago who developed an allergy to heart worm pills. Had loss of hair, scratching, irritated spot. Vet diagnoses with curiosa's & gave me medicated shampoo to use on him. It did no good. He had been on heart worm pills for many years with no problem getting him to take them until one day he refused. BIG dog said no so I didn't push it. His refusal to take his pill made me think it just may be the pill causing the problem. I stopped giving him the medication & rubbed Vaseline on irritated spots where he had been scratching. He stopped scratching because the Vaseline relieved the itching & his hair grew back. Can't give you advice as to what to do but that is how it went with my German Shepard/Malamute mix. Good luck with your furry friend.


My 19 yr old rat terrier is showing signs of diabetes and Alzheimer's... Vet's are agreeing with me. Probably time to put my baby down.


my dog is around 8 or 9 yrs i inherited her fro my sisters death here for the last 2 mths her hair on her back has fallen of just a small patch in the shape of a heart and her right ear now has loss of hair she has scratch the ear and chewed on her back and is constantly scratching i have also noticed her skin under her legs and chest are like dark as if it is a bruise but large areas. also on her back there is now a patch of i would call scaley skin. i thought it was just hot spots and put hot spot medicine on it people tell me it might be allergies please can someone lead me in the right direction? iam on a fixed income and can"t afford a vet


My K-9 granddaughter had the same issue. Senior dogs skin gets thin just like human seniors, thin skin exposes veins. Scratching ears (or any thin skin area) can separate and or rupture veins which can cause blood boils, vein size will make difference between lancing or cauterizing. Bottom line, it needs to be drained, possibly opened, you need knowledge of the veins in the area, and it may require sutures.


My pit bull terrier is a senior dog and has skin allergies, now she has developed a huge swelling in the ear lob. what can it be and what do you do for it, lots of fluid in the ear top.

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