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How to Take Care of a Senior Dog: Tips & Advice

As your dog ages, keep several considerations in mind to ensure the health and well-being of your senior dog. In this article, our Santa Clarita vets discuss the needs of senior dogs and provide tips on how you can contribute to keeping your canine companions healthy and happy throughout their golden years.

Senior Dogs & Aging

You may have come across the popular notion that 1 human year is roughly equivalent to 7 dog years, providing a method to assess your pup's life stages and anticipated lifespan. However, the reality is more nuanced. Various factors, including breed and size, influence the rate at which your dog undergoes aging.

Smaller dog breeds tend to experience a slower aging process compared to larger breeds. In general terms, there are some useful benchmarks to consider when determining when your dog is deemed a senior: approximately 10-12 years for small breeds, around 8-9 years for medium breeds, and about 6-7 years for large and giant breeds.

Veterinary Care For Senior Dogs

As your pet ages, you'll likely observe noticeable changes in their physical, mental, and behavioral aspects. Aging in dogs brings about various developments that are part of the natural course. While certain signs of aging, like the greying of their muzzle, don't require veterinary attention, pet parents should stay vigilant for indicators that a visit to the vet's office might be necessary. Keep an eye out for:

  • Weight fluctuation (gain or loss)
  • Poor or worsening hearing/vision
  • Sleep abnormalities (sleeping too much/not enough)
  • Mental dullness
  • Dental disease and tooth loss
  • Loss of muscle tone
  • Arthritis and joint issues
  • Reduced liver, kidney, and heart function

Schedule a wellness check with your vet if you observe these signs in your older pup. Regular wellness exams for your senior dog allow your veterinarian to screen for emerging geriatric conditions and initiate treatment promptly. Your vet will also evaluate your senior dog's nutrition and mobility, providing recommendations for diet or exercise adjustments that can benefit your dog.

As dogs age, you should visit your veterinarian regularly for checkups. In addition to an annual or biannual exam, pet parents should opt for yearly blood work for their senior dogs.

It's crucial to conduct blood work to assess your senior dog's white and red blood cells and kidney and liver function, ensuring their overall health. This simple measure facilitates the early detection of any potential diseases.

Caring For Your Senior Dog


Your dog's nutritional needs are likely to change as they age. Most senior dogs experience a gradual decline in physical activity, making them more susceptible to weight gain. Weight excess, in turn, can lead to various health issues, including cardiovascular conditions and joint discomfort.

To determine if adjustments are necessary, consult with your veterinarian. This may involve monitoring your dog's daily calorie intake or transitioning to a specially formulated weight-loss food.

For senior dogs facing specific health conditions, a range of prescription diets and supplements are available. Discuss with your vet to determine the most suitable diet or supplement for your pup.

Beyond the physical advantages of a proper diet, adequate nutrition may contribute to maintaining your dog's cognitive function as they age. Like humans, dogs can experience cognitive decline or conditions akin to Alzheimer's. Feeding your dog food rich in omega-3 fatty acids and regular exercise may support their mental alertness.

Exercise (Physical & Mental)

As your dog ages, it's crucial to keep both their body and mind active for better health. Help your canine companion maintain a healthy weight and exercise their joints by incorporating a regular physical activity schedule.

Pay attention to your dog's comfort and abilities during exercise. If you notice any issues with the long walks or runs they once loved, consider taking them for shorter and more frequent walks. Signs of reluctance or slowing down might indicate health problems like arthritis or hip dysplasia. In such cases, promptly contact your vet to ensure your pet receives the necessary treatment.

In addition to regular physical exercise, senior dogs benefit from mental stimulation. It's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks or introduce engaging puzzle games or toys. Explore the variety of options available in pet supply stores and online to keep your pup mentally active and entertained.

Keep Your Senior Dog Comfortable

Aside from ensuring they are receiving adequate veterinary care, nutrition, and physical and mental exercise, there are a few things you can consider doing to help your aging four-legged friend live out their golden years comfortably:

  • Orthopedic dog bed, heated dog bed (or heating pad/mat set to low heat under a blanket in their sleeping area) for dogs with joint pain or stiffness
  • More carpeting around a home with tile, laminate, or wood floors can reduce slipping or tripping hazards for your older dog (some dogs also do well with dog socks that have non-slip soles)
    • Pet gates (or baby gates) can be placed at the top or bottom of stairs to prevent tripping or falling hazards.
  • Improve accessibility with dog ramps to help your pet go up and down the stairs, on furniture, or into cars; elevating their food and water bowls can also help with neck and back pain. 
  • If your dog has vision issues, seeing at night will be harder for them; some nightlights around the home will help them navigate.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is it time for your senior dog's wellness exam? Contact Sweetwater Veterinary Clinic today to book an appointment for your pup.

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Sweetwater Veterinary Clinic is accepting new patients! Our friendly and experienced vets are passionate about the health of Santa Clarita companion animals and horses. Get in touch today to book your four-legged friend's first appointment.

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