SOUTH AFRICA

Caring for your Senior Dog

Mature dogs enrich our lives with a special brand of love, loyalty and canine wisdom all their own. However, they’re also more likely to develop arthritis and other health problems that become more common with age. This overview of senior dog care will help you understand how your dog's needs change with age – and how you can help him or her stay happy and active as long as possible.

Senior Health Care Checklist

Your pet ages much faster than you do. This may explain why older pets are more likely to experience certain health and behaviour problems. How can you tell the difference between normal aging and warning signs of a serious health problem, such as arthritis, diabetes, cancer etc.? Review the list below, and if your dog shows one or more of these signs, consult your veterinarian:

  1. Difficulty climbing stairs
  2. Difficulty jumping up
  3. Increased stiffness or limping
  4. Loss of housetraining
  5. Increased thirst
  6. Increased urination
  7. Changes in activity level
  8. Circling/repetitive movements
  9. Confusion or disorientation
  10. Excessive barking
  11. Less interaction with family
  12. Decreased responsiveness
  13. Tremors or shaking
  14. Skin and haircoat changes
  15. Changes in sleeping patterns
  16. Less enthusiastic greeting or behaviour
  17. Altered appetite
  18. Weight change
  19. Difficulty chewing or swallowing
  20. Excessive drooling
  21. Severe bad breath (a sign of periodontal disease)
  22. Diarrhoea or vomiting that lasts more than a day
  23. Coughing that increases in frequency or severity
  24. Excessive panting or laboured breathing
  25. Difficult or painful urination or defecation
  26. Seizures
  27. Lumps, bumps, swellings or wounds that don't seem to heal

Be sure to consult your veterinarian promptly if your dog shows one or more of these signs – or anytime you have questions or concerns about your pet. 

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Senior Dog Health Care

As senior dogs are more prone to certain health and behavior problems, we recommend a special senior health care program:

  • Regular checkups are a must. Even the healthiest dog should see their veterinarian at least annually; twice a year is often recommended for senior dogs. Ask your veterinarian how often routine checkups are recommended for your dog's age and condition. Refer to the graph below which allows you to estimate your pet’s age in human years. Depending on the breed of your dog, 1 dog year could be equivalent to 3-20 human years. This means taking your pet to the vet once a year is equal to you seeing your doctor once every 3-20 years. Having your pets’ health checked by your vet at least once a year, will enable him to detect any diseases in advance and this will save a lot of heart ache and expenses in the long run. Early diagnosis can safeguard your pet’s health and prolong his life. Discuss with your veterinarian which diagnostic tests are appropriate for your dog.


  • Keep up vaccinations and parasite prevention. Older dogs are less resistant to disease and more susceptible to infections.
  • Make sure your dog gets vaccination boosters on schedule, and keep him free of fleas, ticks and other external parasites.
  • Keep your veterinarian informed. Make sure to let your veterinarian know about any health or behaviour problems you've observed in your dog.

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Senior Dog Diets

It should come as no surprise that senior dogs have special dietary and nutritional needs, too. Keep these suggestions in mind when feeding your senior dog:

  • Watch those calories. Older dogs are usually less active and have a slower metabolism than their young counterparts. If you continue to feed him like he's a pup, he's likely to become obese – putting unnecessary strain on his heart, lungs, muscles and joints.
  • Consider a senior diet. Ask your veterinarian if food formulated specifically for the nutritional needs and lower activity level of senior dogs may be appropriate for your pet. Senior diets are usually lower in calories, protein and fat, and higher in fibre.
  • Make sure food is highly palatable. Older dogs often have reduced senses of taste and smell. If their food doesn’t smell and taste good, they may not eat enough to stay healthy.
  • Eliminate fatty snacks. These may be difficult for an older dog to digest.
  • If you have a medium or large dog, raise the food dish. Elevate your dog’s food and water dishes by placing them on a low table or crate. This will reduce stress on his neck and back when eating.
  • Ask about supplements. Your veterinarian can tell you whether vitamin or mineral supplements are needed at this stage of your older dog’s life.
  • Avoid sudden changes. Abrupt changes in diet may upset an older dog's digestion. If you’re changing foods, do it gradually over a period of several days.

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Senior Dog Grooming

As senior dogs may have a more difficult time grooming themselves, they need your help. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Get him to open his mouth wide. Periodontal disease is very common in older dogs. If ignored, it can become serious – even life-threatening – as bacteria from the mouth get into his bloodstream. Brush your dog’s teeth regularly with a dog toothbrush and paste. Check his teeth and gums carefully for signs of disease, tartar or decay, and schedule a professional checkup and cleaning if necessary.
  • Take care of his coat. With age a dog’s coat may dull and his skin may become dry. Brushing improves the circulation to the skin and helps stimulate the production of natural oils to keep the coat shiny. Your veterinarian may recommend a special shampoo for dry skin.
  • Check him from nose to tail. While grooming your dog, check for abnormalities such as hair loss, wounds, evidence of parasites or any unusual lumps or bumps.
  • Trim nails regularly. Because senior dogs don’t exercise as much as younger ones, their nails don’t get worn down as much by activity. Clip gently – an old dog’s nails are often brittle.

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Senior Dog Exercise

Like older people, senior dogs need regular exercise in moderation. Just remember:

  • Slow it down. Although regular exercise is important at any age, an older dog may need more frequent, shorter walks. Don’t force him to overexert himself.
  • Keep him on a leash or in a fenced area, especially if he is going deaf or his vision has deteriorated.
  • Watch the thermometer. Don’t exercise your older dog outdoors in extreme heat or cold.
  • Know his limitations. If your senior dog has arthritis or a weak heart or lungs, be sure to consult your veterinarian about the level of exercise appropriate for his age and condition.
  • Provide a comfortable place to rest. An orthopaedic bed with soft, thick padding is ideal for cushioning old bones. A heating pad under the blanket will provide added warmth. Since many older dogs can have occasional problems with urinary incontinence, avoid using electrical heating pads. A circulating warm-water heating pad is a better choice. To prevent skin burns, never place your dog directly on the heating pad.

Disclaimer: Zoetis takes no responsibility for any claims that may arise from information contained in this information sheet. Individual situations may vary from location to location and it is recommended that you consult your veterinarian before any management or treatment decisions are implemented.

Vrywaring: Zoetis neem geen verantwoordelikheid vir enige eise wat mag voortspruit uit inligting vervat in hierdie inligtingsdokument. Individuele situasies varieer van plek tot plek en dit word voorgestel dat u eers u veearts kontak alvorens enige bestuurs- of behandelingsbesluite geïmplementeer word.