Health checks in older dogs

Dog breeds mature at different ages; giant breeds can be considered ‘old’ at the age of 4 years, small breeds by 10 years of age. Therefore, in dogs, the age at which we recommend screening checks will vary. Our vets can discuss this with you.

‘Old age is not a disease’

Often a problem which you suspect is due to the advancing age of your pet may actually be the result of a treatable medical condition.

  • A dog that has ‘slowed down’ may be suffering from arthritis, heart disease or cognitive dysfunction (‘dementia’).
  • Weight loss and a pickier appetite may be an early sign of liver or kidney disease or dental pain.
  • Various medical conditions can cause or increase the likelihood of urinary ‘accidents’ in the house.

As your dog ages, there are changes to their physiology, behaviour and vulnerability to illnesses. These include: 

Many of these conditions do not show symptoms early in their course and at this stage are only identifiable through testing. They are however likely to be progressive. The earlier a problem is detected the better it can be managed, improving longevity and quality of life for your dog.

Many common conditions can be diagnosed with a clinical exam and laboratory screening therefore regular health checks are advisable. These could be combined with your annual vaccinations. If you feel that your dog is actually showing signs of ageing or any symptoms of a problem, we would particularly recommend booking an appointment.

We offer a “Wellness Package” which decreases the cost of initial screening tests. For more information please visit the Wellness Package for dogs Page.

Dietary Considerations

With ageing, the nutritional requirements of you dog may change. We have various diets designed for the older dog as well as for specific problems such as obesity, joint pain or dental disease.

Royal Canin ‘Mature’ diet

This is a very good quality food, containing supplements to aid cognitive function and preserve muscle mass. There are different versions for smaller, medium and larger dog breeds, as they have different requirements with ageing, and bigger dog breeds tend to ‘mature’ faster than smaller dog breeds.

  • Small (under 10kg), over 8 years – additional supplements for healthy skin and teeth
  • Medium (10-25kg), over 7 years – easy to digest with additional supplements for healthy skin
  • Large (25kg), over 5 years – easy to digest with additional supplements for healthy joints

Royal Canin ‘Satiety’ & ‘Obesity’ diets

If your dog is overweight or obese, they may benefit from one of the weight management diets. Obesity is a major health problem. It can exacerbate joint pain, heart disease, respiratory disease, skin disease and can lead to diabetes. It has been proven that obese dogs have a shorter life expectancy than dogs with an ideal bodyweight. These diets are designed to help your dog lose weight whilst still getting all the vitamins and minerals they need from their diet.

We run ‘weight clinics’ to help, provide advice, support and monitoring progress. Please phone us if you would like further information about this.

Royal Canin ‘Mobility’ diet

This diet contains various extra supplements; including helping maintain mobility in dogs with joint problems such as arthritis, or following joint surgery.

  • Arthritis
  • Dental Disease
  • Heart disease
  • Lumps and bumps
  • Diabetes
  • Cognitive dysfunction (‘dementia’)
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Cancers


Initial signs may be a general ‘slowing down’, stiffness when rising, reluctance to exercise or climb stairs and/or changes in temperament and interaction due to discomfort. A number of treatments are available. Treatment can slow the progression of the disease and ease the associated pain.

Treatment options include:

  • Joint supplements – Chondroitin, Glucosamine and essential fatty acids (EFAs)
  • Injections – Weekly for 4 week course, then every 4-6 weeks
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories ‘NSAIDs’
  • Weight loss – overweight animals put significantly more pressure on their joints so weight loss can drastically improve quality of life
  • Acupuncture
  • Therapeutic Laser
  • Other pain relief medications. (DO NOT USE HUMAN MEDICATION AS MANY OF THESE DRUGS ARE TOXIC TO DOGS! We have medications that are designed for long term use in dogs, which are safe and well tolerated.)
  • Exercise – regular gentle exercise, including hydrotherapy, maintains muscle mass and reduces stiffness

Often, a combination of treatments will be used.

Dental Disease

Dental disease is a very common problem in older dogs. Signs can include reluctance to eat, dropping food, salivation, pawing at the mouth and bad breath. Often owners do not recognise the discomfort their pet has been in with a sore mouth until they see the change in their pets after treatment with increased activity and interaction.

Build-up of tartar on the teeth leads to sore gums and infection. A sore mouth can lead to problems eating and infection can spread and cause disease in other organs such as the heart and kidneys. Infection in the mouth means that your dog is swallowing bacteria constantly which can also lead to vomiting and diarrhoea. There are many options available to improve the health of your dog’s mouth.

Initial treatment may involve a general anaesthetic to scale and polish teeth. Any diseased teeth may require removal. At Animates we offer a fixed price Dental Scale and Polish.

Following this we can formulate a plan that suits you for on-going dental care. This may include brushing your pet’s teeth, special dental diets and treatments for the drinking water to reduce further problems.

Heart disease

Signs of heart disease include having less energy and struggling with exercise, coughing, breathlessness and fainting. Normally these signs develop slowly so you may not notice that your pet is less active. Heart disease is most common in smaller breeds of dog such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, but can occur in any dog.

We have various drugs available which help the heart work more efficiently and so can help improve the quality and quantity of life of your pet.

Lumps and bumps

Finding a new swelling or lump somewhere on your dog is common as they age. Many of these lumps turn out to be nothing to worry about but unfortunately some can turn out to be serious cancers. ‘Nastier’ lumps may grow quickly, become red or ulcerated or irritate your dog. However, occasionally lumps which show signs of being serious turn out to be not to be, and vice versa.

If you notice a new lump or bump on your dog, then we can examine it and discuss whether the best option would be to monitor, sample or surgically remove it.


You may notice signs of weight loss, despite an initially increased appetite, drinking more and urinating more. Diabetes is simple to diagnose starting with a blood and urine sample.

Treatment usually involves twice daily insulin injections. The needles are tiny and often your pet won’t even feel them. A prescription diet can really help to keep the condition well controlled.

Cognitive dysfunction (‘dementia’)

Metabolic processes in the body are constantly producing harmful by-products called free radicals which in a young animal are neutralised by anti-oxidants. In older animals, free radical production increases but unfortunately the amount of anti-oxidants decrease. This leads to excessive amounts of free radicals which can damage cells within the brain.

Your dog may show signs of being more restless, pacing behaviour, disorientation, vocalisation or a decrease in interaction with you. They may also show signs of inappropriate toileting behaviour.

Specialised supplements are available to help reduce free radical damage and improve nerve transmission in the brain. We also have drugs which increase blood flow to the brain, helping it work more efficiently. This can help to improve your dog’s energy and feeling of well-being.

Urinary incontinence

Finding unexpected puddles in the house or noticing your dog dribbles urine whilst sleeping can indicate urinary incontinence. It may occur because a medical problem is causing more urine to be produced than your dog’s bladder can hold; blood and urine tests may detect a treatable medical condition.

Alternatively problems with urination may be due to internal muscles becoming less effective, and if this is the case, we can dispense medication which normally works very well.

Kidney disease

Early signs of kidney disease can be quite non-specific and may be put down to ‘old-age’. Initially all that may be evident is mild weight loss, but as the disease progresses other symptoms may begin to show including poor appetite, obvious weight loss, lethargy and dehydration. An increase in drinking and urination or inappropriate urination may be seen in some cases. Early detection and treatment can improve your dog’s quality of life and longevity.

Diagnosis is relatively straightforward and involves a urine test and a blood test.

Treatment includes a prescription food and possibly a dietary supplement, and in some, but not all cases, tablets. Occasionally your dog may need to be hospitalised and placed on intravenous fluids.

Liver disease

The liver processes food from the gut and produces products to aid digestion, as well as getting rid of toxins and infections from the blood. It is a very important organ which may become less efficient with aging. Signs of liver disease are often very non-specific.

They include:

  • inappetence
  • tummy upsets
  • depression
  • lethargy
  • increased thirst and urination
  • disorientation and abnormal behaviour
  • as well as serious problems such as fits

The signs often wax and wane. Blood tests gives us a lot of information about your dog’s liver, and if the results are abnormal, we will advise you about further tests or treatment.

If needed, treatment could include a prescription diet, supplements or other medications which can improve your dog’s quality of life and longevity.


Sadly cancer becomes more common as dogs age, and like other diseases a dog with early cancer may not show signs of ill health. You may notice a ‘lump or bump’ as described earlier or the vet may be able to feel one when feeling your dog’s abdomen in their health check examination.

It is also possible that abnormalities may be picked up on laboratory screening which suggest further tests to check for cancer should be considered.

While some types of cancer are obviously very serious others, if found early are more treatable than you may imagine, for example simply removing it surgically.

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