Common Diseases In Senior Dogs


As with many people, dogs become more likely to develop certain diseases as they get older. Some of the most common diseases seen in senior dogs that are mentioned below.

Weight issues

Weight issues can range from being underweight to being overweight or even obese. All are reasons for concern. Being overweight or obese makes your dog more susceptible to various diseases, including arthritis, cancer, skin disease, heart disease, respiratory disease, and others. If your dog is overweight or obese, speak with your veterinarian about a weight control plan for your dog. However, do not start your dog on a diet without first consulting with your veterinarian.

senior dogSome medical issues can contribute to obesity and should be ruled out or dealt with before beginning a weight control program. If your dog is underweight, there is likely a reason. It should be considered a medical necessity to identify the cause of your dog’s weight loss. Potential causes include kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many other disease processes.


Arthritis is one of the most common diseases seen in older dogs and can significantly impact the quality of your dog’s life. Arthritis is often referred to as degenerative joint disease and occurs as a result of injury and trauma to joint structures. Lameness is one of the more common symptoms seen with arthritis. Your dog may appear stiff and sore on rising and may not be able to do many of the things that were previously easy. Getting into and out of the car and going up and down stairs may become more difficult. Many dogs become less active, preferring to rest and sleep. Some dogs will also become irritable due to pain and may lose their appetite as well.

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Kidney disease

Kidney disease is another common disease in older dogs. Kidney disease may be acute or chronic. Symptoms of kidney disease may include increased thirst, increased urine volume, decreased appetite, lethargy, and vomiting. In the latter stages of kidney disease, urine output may decrease. There are many causes of kidney disease. In an older dog, failure of the kidneys may occur simply due to “wear and tear” from aging. However, toxins, dental disease, viral diseases, bacterial diseases, and many other factors can also be responsible for kidney disease.

Heart disease

There are several forms of heart disease that affect dogs. Degenerative valvular disease is most common in small breed dogs but can occur in dogs of any breed. In degenerative valvular disease, the valves that are responsible for directing the blood flow through the various chambers of the heart become deformed and begin to allow blood to flow backwards through the valves. This places an added strain on the heart as it struggles to deal with increasing volumes of blood, eventually resulting in heart failure.

senior dog

Dilated cardiomyopathy is another form of heart disease commonly seen in senior dogs. It most often affects large and giant breed dogs. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle. With this disease, the heart muscle becomes flabby and is unable to efficiently move the blood through the heart and blood vessels. Ultimately, heart failure results.

Symptoms of heart failure in the dog include coughing, difficulty breathing, rapid respiratory rate, lethargy, lack of appetite, and cyanotic (purple colored) gums. Sometimes a build up of fluid can cause swelling of the legs and other body tissues.

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Diabetes results when your dog becomes unable to regulate his blood glucose (sugar) levels. Symptoms expected in dogs with diabetes include increased thirst, increased urine volume, and increased appetite. Diabetic cataracts, a cloudiness that forms in the lens of the eye or eyes, is also sometimes seen in dogs with diabetes. In dogs, diabetes is almost always insulin-dependent. Your dog will need insulin injections, often administered twice daily, to regulate the disease. A controlled diet is also mandatory in treating diabetes.


Hypothyroidism is a disorder in which the thyroid gland secretes lower than normal amounts of thyroid hormone. Dogs with hypothyroidism have a lowered metabolic rate. Symptoms include weight gain and obesity, hair loss, a dry hair coat with excessive shedding, skin pigmentation, mental dullness and lethargy, intolerance to cold, and a slow heart rate. Hypothyroidism most often affects mid- to large-breed dogs. However, some breeds appear to have a genetic predisposition for hypothyroidism, including golden retrievers, doberman pinschers, Irish setters, miniature schnauzers, dachshunds, cocker spaniels, and Airedale terriers.


Cancers of various types are more likely to be diagnosed in older dogs. Types of cancers encountered may include sarcomas, carcinomas, lymphomas, and others. The symptoms seen will depend on the type of cancer, its location within your dog’s body, and whether the cancer has metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body. Possible symptoms include weight loss, lack of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory difficulties, lethargy, and/or abnormal lumps on or under the skin. Other symptoms are possible as well.

Dental disease

Dental disease can surface in dogs as young as 2-3 years of age. In older dogs, dental disease can continue to be a problem. Bad teeth and other dental issues can result in pain for your dog and can also contribute to other illnesses, including heart and kidney disease. Symptoms of dental disease include lack of appetite, difficulty chewing, chewing on one side of the mouth, excess salivation, and pawing at the mouth. Regular dental care is an important part of routine grooming for all dogs. Brushing is the gold standard but, for dogs that will not allow brushing, there are dental diets, treats and chewies, oral rinses, and other dental devices that can help. Your dog will need regular veterinary dental care also.

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As our dogs get older, they become more likely to develop age-related disease. Regular visits with your veterinarian can help detect these illnesses and allow prompt early intervention, sometimes adding years to your dog’s life as well as increasing the quality of life for your dog.

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