Skip to content
chow bella pet bowlschow bella pet bowls
Understanding and Supporting the Needs of Aging Dogs

Understanding and Supporting the Needs of Aging Dogs

Understanding and Supporting the Needs of Ageing Dogs


As our beloved canine companions enter their senior years, they require more specialised care to ensure their comfort and health. Having gone through the senior years with several dogs, I wanted to write a blog to hopefully help you navigate these golden years.

This comprehensive guide is designed to help you, as a dog owner, understand and effectively manage the changes and challenges that accompany ageing in dogs.


Understanding Ageing in Dogs

Recognising the signs of ageing in dogs involves more than observing a greying muzzle or a slower pace. It encompasses a broad range of physical and mental changes. Early recognition and appropriate adjustments in care can significantly improve the quality of life of elderly dogs. We will also look at some things that you can do earlier on in your dog's life which may make life easier as she ages.


Common Health Issues in Ageing Dogs


  • Symptoms:
    • Reluctance to move or discomfort during movement.
    • Painful reactions when touched in affected areas.
    • Visible stiffness or limping, especially after resting.
    • Difficulty getting up or lying down.
    • Reluctance to go for walks.
  • Management Tips:
    • Gentle Exercise: Incorporate regular, low-impact activities such as walking or swimming to help maintain joint mobility and muscle strength.
    • Comfortable Bedding: Invest in orthopaedic beds that provide support for sore joints, facilitating better sleep.
    • Home Adjustments: Install ramps for accessing higher areas like beds or cars and place non-slip mats on slippery floors to enhance mobility and safety.
    • Pain Management: Consult with your vet about appropriate pain relievers and supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin.
    • Holistic Treatments: Explore therapies like hydrotherapy, which strengthens muscles around joints, and laser treatment, which reduces pain and inflammation.

Canine Dementia (Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome)

  • Symptoms:
    • Disorientation or appearing confused, such as standing on the hinge side of the door.
    • Getting "stuck" behind furniture or forgetting the purpose of entering a room.
    • Changes in sleep patterns, including restlessness at night.
    • Decreased interaction with family, appearing withdrawn.

Case Study: Bella

My little cocker spaniel, Bella, developed some symptoms of dementia. Although she didn't get stuck behind furniture, her sleep patterns definitely changed and she was often restless at night. 

She would look for me in the house even though she'd just seen me go out through the front door, and she'd often enter a room and stand there looking confused. 

This was compounded by other symptoms of ageing that had developed. She had lost her hearing completely, her sight was poor, and she seemed to lose her sense of smell (eg could no longer sniff out treats if scattered on the floor, or pick up the scent of a squirrel on a walk).

With all of these symptoms came a gradual loss of confidence. She went from being "bomb-proof" to panicking about things - the vet, being left on her own, being in new situations. All of it became very hard for her. She was extremely restless in the evenings and would continually demand treats, as if she'd forgotten that she'd just had one.  

It was tiring for all of us - including our other 2 dogs.

Some things that helped were keeping her routine consistent, giving her nose work games such as snuffle mats to help keep her occupied and calm, and I'd have short training sessions where I'd ask her to do things that I knew she could succeed at, so that she could "win" and take some confidence from that.


  • Management Tips for Canine Dementia:
    • Stable Environment: Keep the home layout consistent to aid navigation.
    • Mental Stimulation: Engage with simple games, new toys, or short training sessions to keep the mind sharp.
    • Routine: Establish and maintain regular schedules for feeding, walking, and sleeping to help reduce confusion and anxiety.

Kidney Disease

  • Symptoms:
    • Increased thirst and urination.
    • Weight loss and decreased appetite.
    • Vomiting or diarrhoea.
    • Increased blood pressure.
  • Management Tips:
    • Veterinary Monitoring: Regular check-ups are crucial for early detection and management.
    • Special Diet: Provide diets specially formulated for kidney support, lower in protein and phosphorus.
    • Hydration: Ensure constant access to fresh water to aid kidney function.

Heart Conditions

  • Symptoms:
    • Coughing, particularly at night or following exercise.
    • Difficulty breathing or fast breathing even at rest.
    • Tiring easily during physical activity.
  • Management Tips:
    • Regular Veterinary Visits: Early detection through regular vet visits is key.
    • Diet and Exercise: Ensure a balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight. Moderate exercise should be monitored based on your dog’s capacity.
    • Medications: Adherence to prescribed medications can help manage symptoms effectively.

Loss of Senses


  • Symptoms:
    • Not responding to verbal commands or sounds like doorbells.
    • More frequent "check-ins" during walks.
    • Increased distress when alone, particularly overnight.
  • Management Tips:
    • Early Training: Train all voice commands with accompanying hand signals from an early age, to prepare for potential hearing loss.
    • Communication Techniques: Use visual cues and ensure your approach is known to avoid startling them. This includes being careful about waking your deaf dog up - try putting a little treat under his nose so that the smell wakes him up rather than touching him.


  • Symptoms:
    • Hesitation when getting on or off furniture, particularly in dim lighting.
    • Clumsiness in new environments or not noticing thrown toys.
    • Cloudiness in their eyes.
  • Management Tips:
    • Safe Environment: Maintain a consistent layout at home to help your dog navigate safely.
    • Close Guidance: Use a leash in new environments to guide and reassure your dog.

Mobility Issues in Senior Dogs

Chronic Degenerative Myelopathy (CDM)

  • Symptoms:
    • Weakness in the hind legs, progressing to paralysis.
    • Difficulty picking the hind feet up eg over door thresholds.
    • Difficulty standing up and frequent falls.
    • Knuckling under (standing/walking on the knuckles)
  • Management Tips:
    • Protective Boots: Invest in boots for your dog's back feet to protect them from being bashed when trying to clear door thresholds or steps.
    • Support Harnesses: Utilise harnesses to help support your dog’s weight and aid mobility.
    • Physical Therapy: Regular sessions with a physiotherapist can help maintain muscle strength and mobility.
    • Hydrotherapy: Regular sessions can help to support the muscles and maintain mobility.
    • Home Adjustments: Adapt your home with ramps and non-slip flooring to facilitate easier movement.

Case Study: Kai

Kai was a huge lurcher. Weighing 37kg he loved nothing better than charging around. But on a walk in snowy weather we noticed that he wasn't picking up his back feet properly - you could see where they were dragging in the snow.

Further investigations with the vet confirmed that he had CDM and we were told this would likely progress fairly rapidly.

We took him to hydrotherapy sessions which helped him for a while. The plus side was that he wasn't experiencing any pain. But he was clunking his back feet every time he crossed the threshold to go in or out of the house. He would often knuckle under and not realise.

We built a ramp to help him get in and out of the car.

He wore boots on his back feet most of the time to protect them. But over a few months, as the condition progressed, he started to lose confidence. He was clinging to the wall when outdoors. One day he had been lying on the decking (a September day) and I found him shivering all over. He had got cold but presumably either not realised, or not been able to get himself up.  He also stopped going out into the garden - his world just got smaller and smaller.

We said goodbye to him whilst he was still able to move around, and gave him one last walk where he did his best to have a run around.  It is a difficult condition to watch your dog go through, and if allowed, will progress to full paralysis at the back end, incontinence and so on.  My own view on this is that it is better to let your dog go before this happens, no matter how hard that is - always try to keep your dog's quality of life in mind above your own wishes to hand onto them.


Preventive Measures for a Healthier Senior Life

  • Early Training: Incorporating both voice and hand signals in training can prepare dogs for potential loss of hearing or sight.
  • Physical and Mental Activity: Regular physical exercise and mental challenges help prevent obesity and keep the mind sharp.

The importance of socialisation

  • Recent research has revealed that regular social companionship (with both people and other animals) has the largest influence on healthier ageing in dogs than anything else.
  • The research, published in Evolution, Medicine & Public Health, surveyed the human parents of more than 21,000 dogs and found that social companionship — with both people and other animals — had the largest influence on healthier aging among dogs.
  • The effect was five times greater than anything else they looked at, such as family finances, household children or the pet parent’s age.
  • Engaging regularly with other dogs and humans can significantly enhance physical health and cognitive function. According to research highlighted by the Washington Post, dogs that maintain active social lives exhibit delayed onset of ageing symptoms and maintain higher levels of physical activity.



When you have had a dog for most, or all, of its life, you will know that they give us so much. It is our duty as their caregivers to return that favour as they age.

Caring for an ageing dog requires understanding, patience, and proactive health management.

By recognising the signs of ageing and implementing appropriate care strategies, you can ensure that your senior dog enjoys a fulfilling and comfortable life.

Regular veterinary visits are essential to customise care based on your dog's specific needs, allowing them to lead a happy and healthy life even as they age.

I hope that this guide will be helpful to you as you enjoy your dog's golden years.



For further reading on when it's time to say goodbye, please see this blog.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published..

Cart 0

Your cart is currently empty.

Start Shopping