Common illnesses associated with older dogs

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Probably one of the worst parts of being an owner is watching our furry friends get older. Sadly, aging comes with health problems, some of which can greatly impact on a dog’s quality of life. A number of conditions can be tricky for owners to spot and may be confused with normal signs of aging. As there is often a lot that can be done to help ease symptoms and improve the affected dog’s day to day life, it is really important to ensure any health conditions are diagnosed as soon as possible.

Below are just a selection of the many conditions that can afflict our ‘golden oldies’:

Joint Disease in older dogs:

It is thought that the majority of senior dogs will suffer from some degree of joint disease. With osteoarthritis being the most common condition. This is generally a disease of wear and tear and, over time, a dog’s cartilage wears down and their joints can begin to suffer. Signs can be subtle but may include a general slowing down, stiffness and a visible loss in muscle mass. As this condition can be well managed with a multi-modal approach, it is critical that those who are suffering receive veterinary attention. Typically, a combination of joint supplements, anti-inflammatories, pain relief medicine, weight loss (if needed) and adjunctive therapies such as massage and hydrotherapy will form part of the treatment plan.

Dental Disease in older dogs:

Many mistakenly believe that bad breath is normal for old dogs but this is far from the truth. Older dogs tend to have a build-up of calculus on their teeth as well as associated red gums (gingivitis) and halitosis (bad breath). Some may even have rotten teeth and abscesses causing chronic pain, drooling and difficulty eating. Many owners believe that if their dog continues to eat their food they must not have dental disease. However, dogs will try hard to eat even when in pain. Therefore, the ability to eat should not be seen as proof that dental disease does not exist. Affected dogs will benefit from a full dental assessment and treatment under general anaesthetic.

For further advice on dental disease >

Nuclear Sclerosis:

Though not technically an ‘illness’, many owners notice that their dogs have nuclear sclerosis and will start to worry. Nuclear sclerosis is a normal change of old age that causes the eyes to have a blue tinge to them and is often mistaken for cataracts. Eyesight should not be obviously affected (like it is with cataracts).  However, if the dog does seem to be losing its vision, there is likely something else going on.

Heart Disease:

While heart disease can occur at any age, it is usually picked up in older dogs once they start to show signs of heart failure. There are a number of heart diseases that can be diagnosed in the aging population and Mitral Valve Disease is one of the front runners. Affected dogs will have a heart murmur and may be coughing, slowing down and panting more than before. Most of the time, signs can be reduced considerably after diagnosis by providing daily medication. As well as improving its quality of life, medicating an affected dog can also lengthen their lifespan considerably.

Idiopathic Vestibular Disease:

This is an unusually-presenting condition that can be rather alarming to witness. Those affected may be described as suddenly acting like ‘drunken sailors’. They will lose their balance and might have a head tilt or flickering of the eyes from side to side. Some dogs will vomit due to the associated motion sickness. If diagnosed, dogs will be cared for and given medicine to help them deal with the symptoms, but generally start to make a good recovery within a matter of days.


In their senior years, it is more important than ever to be vigilant for signs of poor health. In general, a twice yearly check over is a good idea when a dog enters their twilight years. As many signs are hard for an owner to spot, a vet can be the dog’s voice and determine if they would benefit from any diagnostic procedure or treatment to make them happier and healthier.

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