10 Things That Change as Your Dog Ages

From slower walks to longer naps, here’s how your dog might change as they age and how to support them throughout their golden years.

Feb 13, 2024byLauren Rey
things that change as your dog ages

Aging is a part of life — for us and our dogs. Unfortunately, the aging process for our four-legged friends happens a bit faster. It may seem like only yesterday you had a bright-eyed puppy and today you’re staring down a gray muzzle. While our sweet seniors are every bit as adorable and lovable as their younger selves, they may need a little extra care. Here’s what to look out for as your dog ages.

10. More Potty Breaks

senior dog outside
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As our dogs age, the number of potty breaks they’ll need will often increase. As will the possibility they might develop urinary incontinence. Be sure your senior dog is getting enough potty breaks and talk to your vet if you notice signs of incontinence such as wet spots where your dog was laying or dribbling when they walk. There are potential treatment options and lifestyle changes.

When dealing with an older dog with bladder control problems, the most important thing to remember is to be patient! They can’t help themselves and are often just as uncomfortable about it as you are.

9. Mobility Challenges

dog climbing stairs
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Just like us humans, dogs can develop arthritis and joint problems as they age. Look for signs like decreased activity, trouble climbing stairs, and problems rising from a seated or lying position. Always talk to your vet if you suspect your dog is having joint pain or mobility issues. There are treatment options to lessen pain and inflammation, as well as supportive care like joint supplements and physical rehabilitation.

There are plenty of adjustments that can be made to your dog’s environment to make them more comfortable and help them navigate problematic areas. Ramps can help with getting in and out of the car, gates can be used to limit your dog’s access to stairs, and rugs can be used on tile or wood floors to give them better traction and avoid slipping.

8. Lower Energy

senior dog resting
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Just like all of us, dogs are likely to have decreased energy as they age. You’ll likely notice your dog tiring faster during play sessions, slowing down on walks, and stopping a bit short when they get “zoomies.” While physical activity is still important to keep your senior dog happy and healthy, their routine may need to change. Shorter walks, lighter play sessions (try incorporating more puzzle toys over vigorous games of fetch), and most importantly — letting your dog set the pace, are all easy adjustments you can make.

While it’s normal for most senior dogs to show signs of slowing down, sometimes this change can come about suddenly which could also signal a health problem. Always talk to your vet about changes in your dog’s habits, especially any sudden or dramatic ones!

7. Vision and Hearing Loss

dog with cataracts
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Another unfortunate side effect of aging that dogs share with humans — the increased risk of vision and hearing loss. While some issues stem from aging alone, others can be brought about by other underlying issues like cataracts, diabetes, or neurological conditions. If your dog is showing signs of vision or hearing loss like bumping into things, becoming easily startled, or not responding to visual or verbal cues, schedule a vet appointment right away.

While losing these senses can present challenges for your four-legged friend, it’s important to remember that dogs have an incredible sense of smell and can usually still navigate quite well with their noses. You may need to make some adjustments to your home and how you communicate with your dog, but many aging pets that experience vision or hearing loss can still live out their remaining years happy and fulfilled.

6. Dental Health

dog dental exam
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Changes in dental health are common as dogs age. Studies show that by age 3, over 80% of dogs have periodontal disease. These problems only increase as your dog reaches their senior years. When it comes to dental health, the best treatment is by way of prevention. Make sure your dog gets regular check-ups that include oral health screenings and dental cleanings. You can also get in the habit of brushing your dog’s teeth at home. Look for products with the Veterinary Oral Health Council or VOHC seal on them or ask your vet for recommendations.

In between check-ups, keep an eye on your dog’s oral health at home. Any signs of swelling, bleeding gums, bad breath, discoloration, or fractures in the teeth should be evaluated by a veterinarian.

5. Skin and Coat Changes

dog scratching
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As dogs age their skin and coat can become thinner and more fragile. You may even notice hair loss or dry patches, hot spots, or other skin conditions that seemingly develop more frequently or take longer to heal. There are supplements and topicals on the market that may be able to help but it’s important to talk to your vet first. Some skin and coat changes can signal underlying health conditions like diabetes or thyroid problems.

You can help support your dog’s changing skin and coat by using hydrating grooming products, making sure they are getting adequate nutrition, and talking to your vet about adding an Omega-3 supplement to their diet.

4. Tummy Troubles

dog inappetance
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From food sensitivities to lowering appetites, aging dogs can experience a myriad of “tummy troubles.” Always keep an eye on your senior dog’s eating and bathroom habits and report any abnormalities to your vet. Some senior dogs may need a specially formulated diet to deal with food insensitivities, while others may need some enticement to eat by adding more palatable flavors.

It’s also important not to over-treat your senior dog or give them too many table scraps. Older dogs tend to have more sensitive stomachs and a slower metabolism. Too many rich or fatty foods can cause gastrointestinal upset or contribute to weight gain which can be taxing on your dog’s joints and overall health.

3. Changes in Sleeping Patterns

senior dog sleeping
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Just like us humans, as dogs age they can experience disruptions in their sleep patterns. You may notice your dog sleeping more during the day, getting up in the middle of the night, or they may have trouble getting comfortable due to aching joints. Keep an eye on your dog’s sleep patterns and have a conversation with your vet if you notice major irregularities.

Some senior dogs may need a change in bedding to help with aches and pains. Try adding some pillows and blankets to make your dog more comfortable or invest in a good orthopedic dog bed. Make sure your dog is also getting adequate potty breaks, especially before bed to ensure it’s not a full bladder that has Fido waking you up in the middle of the night.

2. Mental and Behavioral Changes

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Similar to humans, dogs can start to display mental and behavioral changes as they age. Some changes can be mild like changes in sleep patterns or playing habits, while others can be more serious like developing new phobias, anxieties, and even aggression. These can be signs of cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), sometimes referred to as “doggy dementia.” When this occurs, changes in your dog’s brain can make them confused, forgetful, and frightened.

Look for signs of CDS such as disorientation, new phobias or aggressive behaviors, changes in how your dog interacts with the family, soiling in the house, or wandering aimlessly (especially at night). If your dog is displaying signs of CDS, schedule an evaluation with your veterinarian as soon as possible. While there is no cure, there are interventions that may help slow the progression.

1. More Veterinary Visits

senior vet checkup
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As our dog’s age rises, so do their health risks. Senior dogs often have a much higher risk of developing chronic health conditions than their younger counterparts. Sadly, it’s been estimated that over half of dogs over age 10 will develop cancer. To stay on top of these potential risks, it’s recommended that senior dogs have a check-up every six months (as opposed to yearly for younger pets). Catching and treating problems early can mean a few more years with our beloved seniors.

So when exactly is a dog considered a senior? It depends on their size. Large breeds like German Shepherds are considered seniors at around age 7, medium breeds like Beagles are seniors around age 8, and small breeds like Pomeranians are seniors at around age 10. Your vet will recommend a check-up schedule that coincides with your dog’s senior status.

Lauren Rey
byLauren Rey

A lover of all animals, Lauren’s background is in the veterinary world, but she is now a content writer on travel, wildlife, and all things pets! She’s based in Florida, but when not writing, she’s usually plotting out a new road trip route with her partner-in-crime. Pickles is a mixed-breed rescue dog that loves hiking, road trips, and Starbucks just as much as her mom does!