Six Tips on Caring for Older Dogs

In all our eyes, our dogs will always be a puppy, even if she’s getting up there in canine (and human) years, or her muzzle is becoming grey. However, eventually the day will come when you notice that your pup is panting a little harder after a long walk and struggling to climb the stairs. It’s time to start adjusting to the lifestyle needs of an older dog.

The time when a dog is considered a senior or geriatric somewhat depends on breed. Small dogs don’t reach their golden years until they are ten to twelve, while a Great Dane may attain senior status at age 8 to 9. Beyond size and breed, genetics and environment all have an impact on a dog’s life expectancy.

Just as modern medicine has extended the life of people, with the right combination of attention and preventative care, it can also extend the lives of dogs. If you want your older dog to have a long and high quality life, consider incorporating these strategies into your pet care routine:


Dental hygiene is particularly crucial as your dog ages. Regular home dental care and professional dental health monitoring and cleaning can prevent painful gingival and periodontal disease. Our Veterinarians and Staff can provide expert advice on how to acclimate your dog to at home dental care and which commercial dental health treats are most effective.


Mature dogs often have food issues, including problems chewing, lack of appetite, obesity, and digestive difficulties. Consult with our Veterinarians for advice on the best diet and exercise plan for your aging dog. Dietary changes may include adding more fiber to aid with digestion and regular bowel movements, decreasing carbohydrates to maintain optimal weight, supplements like antioxidants and fish oil or glucosamine combination products can be added to slow deterioration of body systems and help with early arthritis joint pain.


Like people, aging dogs experience pain and have difficulty performing physical activities they used to enjoy. However, exercise continues to be imperative to their health and well being. Take your geriatric dog on short, gentle walks if he is not used to vigorous exercise and monitor breathing, gait, and overall level of enjoyment to make sure nothing is amiss. Your dog’s brain needs plenty of exercise in the form of stimulation as well. Because our pets are living three to four years longer than they did forty years ago, they are living long enough for cognitive problems such a senility which is now being recognized in pets. Studies have shown that creating new play activities that challenge a pet’s mind, like offering them the new generation of food puzzle toys, can help to significantly reduce the onset of senility. Just playing with geriatric pets any way you can also makes a difference in preserving their mental health.


For true geriatric pets we recommend an office visit every six months when we can hear your observations and do a thorough, detailed examination of all systems. Blood and urine tests can be helpful to uncover problems early enough so we can intervene to provide the longest, highest quality life possible.


Just as you once puppy-proofed your home, you need to provide your older dog with special accommodations. For arthritic dogs consider a ramp or stairs so they can still get in the car or up the porch steps. Keep food and water in areas they can easily reach, especially if they are vision impaired. Heated beds can soothe achy joints in the winter. Keep the hair covering their paw pads clipped short and use non-slip surfaces to prevent falls and help them maintain traction when rising.


Monitor changes in behavior, appetite, weight loss especially when there is muscle atrophy, new odors, increases or decreases in water consumption and urinating, any lumps or sores.

A written journal or videos, for example, of a dog having difficulty rising or coughing can be extremely important.

Taking total care of a geriatric dog can involve a little more work, but can be a deeply rewarding experience. At PSVC we take pride in our care of senior and geriatric dogs, cats, and rabbits. Let us help your faithful friend.

Pittsburgh Spay & Vaccination Clinic is a state-of-the-art, full-service suburban veterinary facility serving the Pittsburgh Area since 1980.. We offer diagnostic, medical, surgical, and dental care to dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits, and pocket pets in the Pittsburgh area.

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