How Can I Tell if my Old Dog is Unwell?

Updated 09 May 2024
Read time: 3 mins

Written by Veterinary Dr Linda Simon

senior dog


While they may not be able to talk to us, our pets communicate to us in their own unique way and are more than able to let us know when they are feeling under the weather. While some signs are obvious, others are more subtle and can take a little detective work to figure out. Knowing the difference between a dog that is ageing and a dog that is poorly is important and is not always as easy as it may seem.


  • Weight Loss

Some owners consider weight loss a normal part of ageing, but this should not be the case. Weight loss is a sign of illness and can occur for a number of reasons including liver failure, dental disease and even some cancers. Weight loss may also occur when there is muscle loss from the back legs; a tell-tale sign of chronic joint disease.

  • Drinking More

Though many owners assume that drinking more is a good sign, it can actually indicate a real problem. Dogs may drink a little more if the weather is warmer or if they have been more active, but a noticeable increase in the amount of water they consume can signal trouble. Diseases such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease and kidney failure are often to blame.

  • Sleeping all the Time

There is no denying that the older an animal, the more time they like to spend curled up in bed but when it seems like all your pooch does is snooze, there could be something more to it. Excessive lethargy and a reluctance to move about can indicate joint pain, heart disease or even ‘Doggy Dementia’.

  • Bad Breath

No dog’s breath is minty fresh but a noticeably bad odour can occur in those older dogs with a buildup of calculus, rotting teeth or oral abscesses. In some, their breath is so bad that it can be smelt from a few metres away. As it can be tricky for owners to detect an oral issue, bad breath should always result in a trip to the vet for a check-up.

  • Slowing Down

No elderly dog is going to win in a race against a pup but they shouldn’t find it a struggle to get from A to B or to climb the stairs. Joint diseases such as arthritis and spondylosis are more prevalent in the ageing canine population and can have a negative impact on their quality of life. As the associated pain and inflammation can generally be well controlled with medicine, it is important to flag up any change in activity level or mobility to your vet.

  • Fur Loss

It can be normal for fur to lose its shine a little and to start turning grey in places but actual fur loss is not a normal old age change. Symmetrical fur loss may indicate a hormonal disorder such as hypothyroidism, while asymmetrical fur loss may be a sign of a skin disease or parasites.


A six-monthly health check is typically advised for senior dogs as seeing them just once a year for their booster can mean common, old age issues will go undetected for several months. Your vet will have a chat with you about how your four-legged friend has been getting on and will give them a thorough examination from nose to tail.

One of the best and simplest things we can do for our golden oldies is to provide them with a high quality, digestible food which provides all of the necessary nutrients. A great example of a top-quality food is Pooch & Mutt’s Senior Superfood. With plenty of highly digestible protein, omega 3 fatty acids and glucosamine for joint protection as well as chamomile for its naturally calming effect, this diet is the ideal choice for our senior friends. It is also highly palatable, ensuring even those with a diminished sense of smell and taste will be licking their lips and asking for more.

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