NutriSource Blogs

3 worrying health issues in senior dogs and how to manage them

April 25, 2023

Dogs have doubled their lifespans these past 40 years thanks to improvements in diet and health care. Having more months and years to make memories with your best friend is something to celebrate. But as your dog enters their senior years, you may start noticing changes. Sometimes, these changes interfere with their quality of life.

Your senior dog may be getting skinny, despite eating their regular meals. Others struggle to use the stairs or have trouble getting around. Or maybe your old dog is getting restless and won’t lay down. Weight loss, arthritis and cognitive decline are some of the signs of old age in dogs.

In the following, we’ll discuss what’s at the root of these canine aging processes and what you can do to help manage these conditions.

1. Weight loss in senior dogs

Many dog owners struggle with obesity in their pets. But when a dog enters the gray muzzle stage, the opposite can happen. Despite eating their regular meals, your geriatric dog is losing weight and here’s why:

  • Loss of muscles mass: Just like humans, dogs experience lost muscle mass as a natural part of aging, particularly inactive dogs. Muscle is denser than fat tissue, so as muscle mass decreases, that shows up on the scale.
  • Reduced ability to absorb nutrients: In the small intestine, finger-like projections called villi contain specialized cells that aid in nutrient absorption. In the aging process, these villi wear down, reducing surface area and affecting the gut’s ability to absorb carbohydrates, amino acids (protein), fats, vitamins and minerals.

Important note: Rapid weight loss in dogs often accompanies a serious illness, so don’t lose time getting a vet exam scheduled.

To support your dog’s health when they’re losing weight in their old age, you’ll want to consider a dietary change that’s right for their stage in life.

  • Don’t restrict protein and calories: Senior diets are great for older dogs that are less active and need to lose a few pounds, as these are formulated with fewer calories. But if your geriatric dog needs to put on weight and recover muscle, vets recommend a high-calorie, high-protein diet. Look for a formula containing 70% or higher animal protein.
  • Look for bioavailable supplements: A high-quality dog food that’s formulated with essential amino acids and minerals can support your dog’s ability to absorb the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

2. Arthritis and joint pain in senior dogs

Stiff, painful joints are another age-related development in dogs. The cause of osteoarthritis in dogs is inflammation and pain resulting from the mechanical wear and tear of cartilage cushioning the joints.

Aside from aging, other factors can contribute to those stiff, sore joints. These include joint disorders like hip dysplasia, older injuries, obesity, diabetes and Cushing’s disease. Working dogs and highly active dogs can also develop arthritis from the high mileage on their joints.

Dogs are stoic creatures when it comes to pain, so they won’t necessarily whine or yelp. But be aware of the early tell-tale signs of stiff, sore joints. Your dog may hesitate or seem reluctant to perform everyday activities, such as standing, sitting, laying down, using the stairs, entering or exiting the car. Your dog may walk with a limp or stiff gait.

As a pet parent of an aging dog, these are some things you can do to head off and manage osteoarthritis.

  • Healthy weight: Even a few extra pounds can put added stress on your dog’s joints, causing great damage and pain. A high animal protein diet can help your dog feel more satiated between meals.
  • Healthy diet: A diet that’s high in Omega-3 fatty acids along with probiotics that support a healthy gut microbiome can reduce inflammation, and limit damage to tendons, bone and cartilage.
  • Exercise: Regular light to moderate exercise loosens stiff joints and alleviates pain — counterintuitive as it may seem to your stiff and sore dog. Instead of taking one long walk with your dog, break it up into two or three shorter sessions. Swimming is also a great activity because it’s easy on the joints.
  • Minimize joint stress: Providing a ramp for your arthritic dog lets them join you on the couch or makes it easier to access the backyard without the harmful impact on those sore joints.

3. Cognitive decline in aging dogs

Age can also impact memory and cognitive ability in dogs. If your old dog is restless and won’t lay down, that tendency to wander and pace — particularly at night — is a worrying sign of cognitive decline in canines.

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome is a disease that causes brain deterioration that’s similar to Alzheimer’s in humans. It occurs in 35% of dogs that are ages 9 and older.1

In addition to the wandering and pacing, other symptoms include disorientation, failure to recognize family and friends, house soiling, clinginess, lack of interest in normal activities such as walks and playing, anxiety, irritability and aggression.

There’s no cure for canine cognitive dysfunction, but your vet may recommend treatments to slow the progression. To support your dog:

  • Provide mental stimulation: As your dog gets older, keep their minds busy with plenty of activity and enrichment. Offer challenges and games that engage their senses (like nose work) while making sure they get plenty of exercise.
  • Offer dietary support: Feed your dog a diet that’s rich in antioxidants to support brain function. Oxidative stress is caused by an imbalance of free radicals, which is linked to cognitive dysfunction in the aging brain.

Element Series: Advanced nutrition for longer, happier life

Dogs are truly in their element when you serve up a hearty meal packed with animal protein. As they instinctively know, meat has important elements their body needs to thrive. NutriSource Element Series starts with premium sourced meat that entices their appetites.

But only Element Series perfects nature’s intention with cutting-edge nutrition that helps dogs live longer, better lives. The Good4Life supplements build the gut through the microbiome and bolster pathways for brain and immune support:

  • An organic selenium yeast supplement, which is an antioxidant that supports cognitive health.
  • Probiotics that support immune function and provide anti-inflammation properties.
  • Highly bioavailable amino acids that enable your dog to maintain healthy tissue, muscle, and cells.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids that support brain and heart health.

Help your community thrive by keeping your dollars local. Check independent neighborhood pet suppliers that stock NutriSource and check for availability of Element.


1. If you have an older pet, be on the lookout for signs of cognitive decline | Colorado State University, Veterinary Teaching Hospital