What is the life expectancy of a dog?

It really depends on the size of the dog, believe it or not. Dogs that are giant breeds, like Great Danes in particular, live a shorter lifetime. We hope they make it 10 years, maybe 12, but that would be unusual. Their lifespan is a little shorter. Small dogs like this live the longest. He's a little 17-pound dog, so his life expectancy would probably be more like 15 years or 16 years.

Dr. Mary Beth Soverns
Countryside Veterinary Clinic

How does getting older impact the health of the dog?

When they get older, one thing's for sure: they are going to slowly but surely not be able to see as clearly. Their lens should be as clear as a window when they're a puppy. As they get older, it gets foggier, eventually like looking through a milk jug. So, they're not going to be able to see as well. When that happens, we need to make accommodations, like turning the lights on, making sure things aren't in their way, and making sure they can see us.

The second thing that's definitely going to happen is they're going to lose their hearing. We're starting to see that in Forrest already. A lot of times, he'll be sleeping soundly and when I come up to him and pet him, he jumps. He didn't know I was there. Sometimes in the house, if I've moved away from where he was sleeping, I have to go back and say, "Hey, do you want to go out for a walk?" Normally, he would have been much quicker about things like that.

The other thing is large breed dogs often get arthritis. They have a harder time getting up and going up and down steps, and jumping in and out of the car. So, we have to assist them and things like that. So, those are three things that are likely to happen to all of our dogs.

How can wellness care extend the life and vitality of my dog?

It's very important that we give our dogs the best care we can from the time that we own them. So if it's puppy care, we want to be sure that they have all their vaccines so they never suffer from distemper or parvo or a disease that we know we could have prevented to begin with.

The next thing we want to be sure to use are preventives—heartworm preventative, flea and tick preventatives, the latter of which also protect against intestinal parasites because we don't want them to ever be burdened by those parasites that we could have avoided.

Next thing, we really want them to have good nutrition throughout their whole life. We don't want them to be undernourished, but we don't want them to be over-supplemented either. We don't want too many calories in their food so that they become overweight, or have too much calcium or phosphorus and they develop bladder stones or go into kidney disease sooner. So, those are the four most important things: vaccines, heartworm preventatives, flea and tick prevention, and really good nutrition.

What are the most common problems in senior dogs?

The most common problem you're going to experience is that they're not going to be able to see as well. When that happens, let's keep the lights on, let's not move the furniture around, let's be more patient, and let them take their time on the steps. Make adjustments for poor hearing, too. They didn't hear us, so they might not hear a car coming. Let's be more careful. Keep them on a leash, make a lot of good decisions for them.

As far as dogs that are having trouble getting up and getting down, consider joint supplements or pain medications that might help them. You’ll probably want to help them get up and get down, or you can build them a ramp. Otherwise, find ways that they don't have to have so many steps and things that are in their way that encumber their ability to walk and move around.

Does my dog still need regular wellness exams as they get older?

Yes, they do need wellness exams as they get older. That's a good time for us to look at their eyes and to ask the owners about their hearing as well as check their teeth. Do they have dental disease? Do they have a tooth abscess? Do they have a heart murmur? Are we hearing that now? Are their lymph nodes enlarged? Are they overweight? Those are good questions that we want to address as soon as we see them, and we also do a lot of early care blood work so we can perhaps pick up a problem before it becomes a known clinical sign.

What are some signs and symptoms that my dog may be slowing down?

They may not seem as energetic in the backyard, or they don't necessarily want to go for long walks anymore. When they go out back, they seem to want to come back in. They do everything a little slower. They eat a little slower, they walk a little slower. Some of those things are just normal things that happen when they get older.

Why is it important to avoid self-diagnosing if my dog is slowing down or whether they're actually sick?

We never want to make a decision by accident and say, "My dog is getting old, that's a sign of old age," when it really wasn't. For instance, if a dog can't see as well all of a sudden, we want to know—was it glaucoma, or was it a cataract, or was it just signs of aging? So, a veterinarian can help you there.

Another example is a dog that can't get up very well and seems real lethargic—it's not fair to assume that it's arthritis. Maybe it's a splenic tumor and it ruptured. So if you have any sudden changes, by all means, please see a veterinarian. If it's a chronic, slower change, there could still be some way we can intervene and help right away.

What will my veterinarian be looking for when examining my senior dog?

We're always going to look at their eyes, their ears, their teeth, their lymph nodes, their heart, and listen to their lungs. We're going to palpate their abdomen and feel their bladder and spleen. We’ll also take their temperature, look at their hair coat, and then we're definitely going to ask you questions about the dog’s history and ask you how you feel that your dog is doing. We'll work together as a team.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (410) 461-2400, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Senior Care - FAQs

Dr. Mary Beth Soverns
Countryside Veterinary Clinic

What health issues do I need to look out for in my senior dog?

I think the most common health issue in all of our older pets is they cannot see as well as they age. They can not hear as well as they age. They can't get around quite as much. Some of them develop arthritis. Some of them get overweight. And certainly a lot of dogs - especially smaller dogs - are going to need dental care as they age.

What are some things I can do to make my aging dog more comfortable?

I think that they need to make some accommodations at home. They can't see as well, so don't change the furniture a lot. Try to make the areas bright, so turn the lights on. Make sure that there aren't slippery surfaces. Large breed dogs have a hard time on hardwood floors. They need more mats down where they walk. Sometimes we might need to make accommodations such as building a ramp so that they don't have steps to go up and down. And as far as hearing, we need to know that they can't hear as well. Maybe they don't hear you calling them. Maybe they didn't know that there was someone at the door and they get startled by a stranger there. So we need to think ahead and think for them so that they don't get stressed out as much.

Does my senior dog need vaccinations in preventative care?

Yes, you certainly know that an older dog can still get Lyme disease. A tick is going to get on an older dog just as much as a younger dog. A mosquito can bite them the same, whether they're old or young. So they still need to be on heartworm prevention. They still need to be on flea and tick preventatives. They still need their vaccines. They need to be protected, even by law, against rabies. And particularly they need to have a physical exam every year so that we can identify problems like whether they can see and hear, and what their teeth look like, if their heart and lungs are normal, if they have a murmur, and if they’ve gained weight. So we can talk about these things together and make a plan so that they be healthier throughout their golden years.

Why does my senior dog sometimes bark at night?

We think that dogs get senile just the way people do. Sometimes, they get their day and nights mixed up. For instance, an older dog might sleep all day long and then get up at night and go prowling around and panting. They might bark. So, that's called cognitive dysfunction syndrome, and we have some things we can do to help with that.

Are there any nutritional or environmental changes I should make as my dog grows older?

Yes, certainly the accommodations we were talking about to the environment—make it brighter, make it less slippery, and make fewer steps. Nutritionally, we're going to want to probably have foods with fewer calories in it and less protein so it’s safer for the kidneys. We’ll also probably want to add joint supplements to their foods so that the older and larger breed dogs get help with their arthritis. There's a lot we can do and adjustments we can make as they get older.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (410) 461-2400, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.