Senior Small Dogs

When are our buddies senior small dogs?

One day you look up and your boy has some white in his beard. Small dogs are generally considered senior at 10 years – though most will probably argue about qualifying for an AARP card. What changes should you make to his daily routine to keep him happy, healthy, and comfortable in his old age?

A senior small dog is more susceptible to heat and cold, so he needs extra protection from both. Also, his skin is more sensitive, so if long-coated, unless his coat can be kept absolutely tangle-free, he should have an easier-care haircut.

Senior small dogs can have trouble hearing and/or seeing. Dogs can adjust remarkably well to such conditions, especially with some extra care from their owners. If you suspect vision impairment, check with your vet to make sure that the condition is not something reversible such as KVS, or dry eye. Cataracts can also be removed.

This is a good point in time to make good on your New Years resolution to keep a cleaner home – that way there won’t be surprising objects for your senior small dog to trip on.

Leave the furniture where it is – if you must re-arrange, take your dog on several tours around the house so he can get familiar with the new system. If possible carpet walkways, so your old boy can easily find his way. You can also put wind chimes or bells on corners so he can maneuver with certainty.

Hearing can also sometimes be a problem, though small dogs of all ages can have SHD – selective hearing disability. Dogs with this common “ailment” only hear what they want to hear. Try rattling the food bowl or your car keys; if your senior small dog doesn’t respond, he may be having trouble hearing.

After a thorough vet check, you can start teaching him visual commands. With patience and understanding, you really can teach an old dog new tricks.

Senior small dogs treasure their routine and don’t like a lot of change. If these must occur, respect the rights of the old boy to grouse a bit and be sure to make things as comfortable as possible for him. Games that your old boy once loved might now be beyond his abilities – make sure that children know how to tell when it’s okay to play and when he’s had enough.

Check him out on a regular basis for problems. Don’t ever assume that your small dog should act a certain way “because he’s old.” If he is behaving oddly, there is usually a physical reason that can at least be alleviated. The following are some common older dog ailments:


Caused by degradation of cartilage around the joints, arthritis can come from a specific injury or just be one of those things connected to the aging process. Symptoms are joint swelling and pain. Conservative treatment is keeping your dog’s weight down, making sure he has a soft bed and walks every other day to keep up mobility.

Carpeted stairs to his favorite bed or furniture will also help. Supplements like glucosamine, which stimulates the synthesis of cartilage and chondroitin, which helps shield cartilage from destructive enzymes can be effective as well. There are prescription drugs your vet can offer but research these carefully as they often have significant side effects.


You may notice that your dog has a funny bump or a sore that just won’t heal. Or that your cheerful boy has gotten grumpy and lost his appetite. A trip to the vet is definitely in order, and she may determine that your senior has cancer.

Treatment for cancer in dogs is very similar to that in humans, except that dogs don’t suffer most of the side effects of chemo and their hair won’t fall out. Many cancers in dogs are eminently treatable and your old boy can enjoy an excellent quality of life for many years post treatment. Discuss all the options with your vet or cancer specialist and go on line to research your options; for example is an excellent resource. But act quickly – delaying action on a diagnosis can mean that a simple procedure is no longer available.


If your senior small dog is acting like he doesn’t know you or is having trouble remembering important things like the exact location of the treats cabinet, he may be suffering from CDS, Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. This disease is very similar to Alzheimer’s in humans. A recent study at the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine states that out of 69 dogs, 32 percent of the 11 year old dogs and 100 percent of the 16 year olds were affected.

A thorough vet check is in order to rule out other possible problems. Then you will need to reorganize your house to reflect the new reality. Your small dog will need to either be under someone’s watchful eye or in a safe restricted space behind secure gates. But improvement can come from interesting sources. Teaching your old boy a new trick or two -- hand signals are fun to learn if his sight is good and will be helpful as he ages. Other possibilities of environmental enrichment are playing with toys or even bringing in another dog to play – or even one to stay.

Dietary changes can also help. Some good ones for CDS contain antioxidants (mixed tocopherols, vitamin C, beta-carotene, carotenoids, and flavenoids), some enzymes and omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). In a laboratory study of older dogs over a two year period, the greatest improvement came from a combination of dietary change and environmental enrichment.

There will come a point when whatever old dog disease your senior small dog has will become too much for his system. He will slow way down, stop eating, and lose control of his bladder and bowels. You will probably know when he’s ready to go. Euthanasia is a painless release from pain and suffering. Hug your dog, thank him for his many years of companionship, and let him go. You owe him that. A noble and wonderful thing to do in memory of your wonderful dog is to donate in his memory to your breed's rescue organization, or the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Canine Health Foundation.

After having had such a wonderful buddy, it can be easy to decide that the pain of losing him makes it just too hard to have another. But the pain will always remain, at least in small measure, until you allow another tiny bundle of cold nose into your home. A new dog — of course another junior sized one — will help more than anything else to bring back the cheerful abandon of a small dog household.

Laughing Through Our Tears
The Poem "Beau" by Jimmy Stewart
Senior Small Dog Portraits

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