Most dog owners consider their dog a “puppy” no matter what age they may be. The sad truth is that, like all things, our dogs age. Having a senior dog is a privilege, but it comes with a bit more work than a young, healthy dog. It’s a commitment dog parents make the moment they bring a dog into their lives.

Knowing how to care for a dog in his golden years isn’t always easy or intuitive as health concerns can pop up without warning and with frequency. If your dog is eight or more years old, here are some health-related issues you should be aware of.

1.       Obesity
As your dog ages, his metabolism changes (sound familiar?), and his energy levels will likely decline. This can lead to an increase in his weight if you are not monitoring his food intake. Older dogs are much more susceptible to weight gain for a variety of reasons and this weight can be stubborn to get off. If you recognize your aging dog gaining weight, determine if increased low-impact exercise is appropriate.

On the flip side, some older dogs will lose weight. This can be a sign of something more serious at play. If you notice your elderly dog losing weight quickly, consult your veterinarian to rule out illness or disease.

2.       Hearing and vision loss
The decline of vision and hearing can happen at any age but is most common in senior dogs. While this is certainly not life-threatening, it does require adjustments on the part of both you and your dog.

A dog experiencing deafness may mean that you, as the owner, will need to use hand signals and alternative means to communicate with your dog. Keep in mind that outdoor time should be supervised, and your dog should remain on a leash (when not fenced in) as he will no longer have an audio recall.

Similarly, dogs losing their sight will need to learn to navigate their world in a new way. This may require you to adjust furniture arrangements and use baby gates to block stairs or other dangerous areas.

3.       Arthritis
Like many other living creatures, dogs can develop arthritis – a condition that affects the cartilage in joints – as they get older. This makes it difficult for them to move and can cause substantial pain if left untreated. Your veterinarian can help develop a plan that best suits your furry companion, from oral medication to injections in the joints to ease discomfort and improve mobility.

4.       Cancer
The most dreaded diagnosis anyone could receive. Cancer is an unforgiving disease that comes in many forms – some more treatable than others. The unfortunate truth is that as our dog gets older, he becomes more prone to developing a variation of cancer. This is why it’s so important to take your dog in for yearly exams and to monitor him for any abnormal growth.

5.       Cognitive decline
Quite simply, our dog’s brains don’t always function quite as well when they’re older. Increased anxiousness, restless behavior at night, and even disorientation are just part of the aging process. Dogs experiencing cognitive decline can typically live a fairly normal life but may require a little bit of extra care. Always consult with a veterinarian if you are unsure how to best serve your aging dog. They can offer plenty of tips to help you both adjust to this new normal.