These Are The Top Six Most Common Illnesses Afflicting Aging Dogs1

Just like human beings, dogs go through various changes in their senior years. Owners may notice changes in behavior such as decreased agility, exercise intolerance, immobility and decreased enthusiasm towards their owners, toys, etc. If your dog is suffering from arthritis you might want to check our glucosamine for dogs article.

Below we highlight and discuss common illnesses that affect dogs in their senior years. You may also want to read our popular article on how to get rid of fleas.

  1. Cancer

Cancer occurs as a result of the uncontrollable multiplication of cells within the body. It is insidious in nature and affects dogs of all ages but is more prevalent in older dogs. It is the leading cause of death in dogs over the age of ten, however, early diagnosis and treatment help to increase survival rates. Vegetables with anti-oxidants and Omega 3 are an excellent addition to your dog's diet, check our article where we answer the question can dogs eat avocado (a great source of Omega 3)

The exact cause of canine cancers is not well documented but genetics has shown to play a big role with certain breeds of dogs being more predisposed than others. Pure breed dogs e.g. Golden Retrievers, Boxers, Bernice Mountain Dogs, German Shepherds, and Flat Coat Retrievers have been shown to be prone to cancers, unlike mixed breed dogs or crossbreeds.

Aging Dogs Common IllnessCancer also shares symptoms with other conditions which can make diagnosis difficult. Veterinarians recommend a thorough physical and laboratory examination when dogs develop lumps or body swelling, have bloody stool or urine, coughing out blood, have enlarged lymph nodes, exhibit lameness or swellings on the legs or a wound that does not heal. Common canine cancers include mammary gland tumors, cancer of the lymph nodes (malignant lymphomas), skin cancers (squamous cell carcinomas) and bone cancers (osteosarcomas).

Treatment is usually costly and may include surgical removal of cancerous tissue, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy so a good pet insurance policy can make a huge difference. Research is ongoing on the development of tumor vaccines which stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies against tumor cells.

Prevention is usually difficult since the cause of most cancers remains unknown. However, neutering helps in the prevention of mammary gland tumors since causation is strongly linked to hormones. The same applies to good oral health and oral cancers.

  1. Arthritis

Arthritis refers to inflammation of the joints. As dogs age, production of glucosamine, a sugar responsible for the growth and repair of cartilage, slow down. This results in the wear and tear of bone cartilage which is essential in cushioning the joints from pressure, friction and damage. Abnormal bone growth results due to the bones rubbing against each other.

Arthritis affects weight-bearing joints e.g. hips, knees, elbows and shoulders. Afflicted dogs experience joint pain and swelling, stiffness, lameness, and inability to rise up. Common causes of arthritis include trauma e.g. fractures, bone infections, bone instability, autoimmune disorders among others.

Senior Dog Arthritis and Joint PainArthritis is a chronic, incurable and progresses over time.  Treatment is usually geared towards relieving symptoms, slowing down the progression of the condition and improving the dog’s quality of life. This is done by administering steroids, food supplements, and a good diet. Steroids help to stop inflammation and pain on the affected joints. Glucosamine and chondroitin are popular additions to food supplements and diet for arthritic dogs. They are natural anti-inflammatory agents and also assist in the repair of damaged cartilage.


  1. Kidney disease

Kidneys are critical in excretion, maintaining body electrolytes and the production of blood cells. As dogs age their risk of acquiring kidney disease increases. Kidney disease can be acute where the symptoms are severe or chronic when there is a slow onset of generalized signs. It caused by infections e.g. leptospirosis, dysfunction in other body organs e.g. heart failure, renal obstructions and cancers among others. Kidney failure results in the accumulation of toxic substances in the body. Another critical illness is pancreatitis, make sure to read that article.

Animals exhibit a myriad of symptoms including:

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Incontinence
  • Fever
  • Halitosis
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Oral ulcers

Diagnosis is done through urine culture, x rays, and blood tests. Treatment depends on the etiology. Affected dogs should be kept hydrated by providing water at all times. The diet should be kidney-friendly and ideally recommended by a veterinarian while maintaining good electrolyte balance in the body. Acute kidney disease has a favorable prognosis compared to chronic kidney diseases.

  1. Blindness

This occurs due to degenerative changes in the eye. It can also be caused by eye conditions such as cataracts where the lenses of the eye are inflamed and become cloudy. Blind dogs appear to bump into things around the house, fall and at times have red/irritated eyes.  It has a slow onset and dogs are able to adjust well by using their other senses to move around. Blindness due to old age normally has no cure and is irreversible.

  1. Deafness

This also occurs due to nerve degeneration in the ears. It is painless, irreversible and has a slow onset. Affected dogs appear not to react to noises such as sirens, dogs barking, doorbells, or when one calls out their name.  Teaching your dog sign commands once deafness has been diagnosed offers a smooth transition.

A veterinarian should be consulted however once deafness is suspected to rule out ear infections as the main cause.

  1. Gum Disease

Dog Gum Disease and treatmentPeriodontal diseases occur when bacteria present in the mouth break down food particles and mixes with saliva to form a thin film around the teeth known as plaque. Over time bacteria multiplies and reacts with minerals which turns plaque into tartar or dental calculus. This stimulates an immune reaction which causes inflammation of the gums. White blood cells release enzymes that breakdown the attachment of the connective tissue to the teeth. This leads to gum recession exposing the roots of teeth. If not treated timely, the infection may spread to body organs leading to heart disease, kidney failure, etc.

Dogs suffering from periodontal disease usually have foul mouth odor, gums appear swollen, red and at times they bleed. The saliva is also thick and blood tinted. They at times go off food and are head shy. Dental cleaning and removal of loose decaying teeth are recommended. Regular oral checkups are encouraged to prevent gum disease.

Is your dog becoming a senior? - read our full article about the eight signs that tell when your dog is becoming senior.


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