Elderly Dogs – What to expect


What changes can I expect as my dog ages?

There are many changes that are associated with aging in dogs. They will often become slower and more reluctant to exercise and may undergo behavioural changes becoming more anxious or soiling in the house. Often these problems are put down to 'age'  and they are just accepted as owners assume there is nothing that can be done but this is not always the case.

Below are some of the disease processes that can affect older dogs and some common treatments that may help;

Old Dog Cognitive Dysfunction

Cognitive dysfunction in dogs is similar to dementia in humans. Brain function decreases over time and if you were to perform an MRI scan of an old dog and compare it to one of the same dog several years earlier, lesions in the brain and sometimes even a reduction in brain tissue can be seen in the older dog. It is estimated that over 60% of dogs over 10 years old can show at least some of the following signs;

  • Disorientation, becoming stuck in corners or behind furniture
  • Restlessness and pacing
  • Lethargy and reluctance to exercise
  • Reduced interaction with people and other animals
  • Less alert, sometimes just staring into space
  • Loss of house training and inappropriate soiling in the house
  • Decreased recognition of people known to the dog

Certain aspects of management can help with these changes such as trying to maintain the dog’s routine as close to normal as possible for example not moving furniture or going on unfamiliar walks, but there are also medications and supplements that can help;


Vivitonin is a drug that increases blood flow and therefore oxygen delivery to the brain, helping it function more effectively. The active ingredient in Vivitonin is called propentofylline which is a xanthine drug, in the same family as caffeine. This increased blood flow can improve demeanour and behavioural differences in older dogs and increase willingness and ability to exercise.

Vivitonin also increases blood flow to the heart and muscles as well as acting as a bronchodilator, a substance that opens up the airways, so it useful for a range of other conditions involving the heart and lungs. It can help prevent abnormal heart rhythms and causes the heart to beat more forcefully, improving circulation.

Vivitonin is made by the manufacturer Intervet Schering-Plough and comes in 50mg and 100mg, in boxes of 60 tablets. The exact dose required by your dog will be advised by your vet.


Aktivait is a nutritional supplement which can help with brain aging and diseases such as cognitive dysfunction as described above. It contains many antioxidants including vitamins C and E, Coenzyme Q10 and alpha lipoic acid. These counteract free radicals which are harmful waste products produced by the body and stop the damaging effects they can have on the brain and nerves. Aktivait also contains substances that help promote normal nerve function such as carnitine and essential fatty acids. As it is a supplement not a drug, it may take 3-4 weeks to see signs of improvement with Aktivait.

Aktivait comes in capsules and can be given daily to both dogs and cats and can help to reverse some of the signs of aging associated with cognitive dysfunction. Aktivait is available in three stengths; Aktivait for Small Breed Dogs (60 capsules), Aktivait for Medium and Large Breed dogs (60 capsules) and Aktivait for Cats (60 capsules). Supplements such as Aktivait will work better if they are started early before the problem becomes too severe but you should always consult your vet before giving a supplement to your pet.

There can be more severe behavioural problems associated with aging such as separation anxiety, aggression and worsening noise phobias and these might require more specialist behavioural modification management and drug therapy so you should have your pet examined by your vet as soon as possible if you are concerned about any of these.

Other problems associated with aging in dogs

The above problems may not always be caused by brain aging and the resulting behavioural changes.

Inappropriate soiling

Inappropriate defecation may be the result of underlying diseases of the prostate. Problems with the liver or kidneys or even diabetes can cause animals to drink more and therefore urinate excessively and this may mean they cannot make it outside as they usually would do. Incontinence is another issue of older animals and it can be either urinary or faecal incontinence. This is when the dog will leak urine or pass faeces without being aware of it due to a lack of tone in the muscles of the sphincters. There are medications such as Propalin and Incurin available to treat urinary incontinence in females but nothing that works well in male dogs and no medications to treat faecal incontinence. It is important therefore to have your pet examined by a vet if you see these behavioural problems as they may be corrected with treatment of the underlying disease.

Arthritis in dogs

This is a very common problem in older, especially large breed dogs. It will cause animals to slow down and be reluctant to exercise. You may notice stiffness, especially when getting up from rest and they may not be able to jump into the car or manage stairs as they used to do. Again this is often something people just accept as a normal part of getting older but actually there are supplements such as Seraquin, Synoquin, Cosequin and Flexadin which contain Glucosamine and Chondroitin, components of cartilage, which can really help to ease the stiffness and daily pain relief that can be used in the more severe cases. For more detailed information you can read our full article on Arthritis in dogs.

Nutrition for older dogs

The nutritional requirements of a dog change as they get older. They require around 20% fewer calories than a young dog and their level of activity is usually less which further reduces their need for calories. Food should be reduced accordingly to avoid older dogs becoming obese. Ideally they should be fed a good quality 'Senior' or 'Mature' diet as these will be especially formulated for older animals. Examples include Hills Senior light.

Some nutritional supplements may also be advised as coat and hair quality can deteriorate in older animal and supplements such as Evening Primrose Oil can help to maintain a good quality coat. Supplements containing Biotin can also be helpful to prevent claws becoming brittle and prone to breaking.

In summary, a lot of the conditions that are just put down to old age can be helped and in some cases reversed, leading to a much better quality of life for your pet so if you feel that your pet is slowing down and beginning to show their age then do have a health check with the vet.

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