Highwood Norwich Kennel
Grooming and Health
Highwood Norwich Terrier Kennel: Geriatric Dogs -- What to do

Geriatric Dogs

Geriatric Dogs

Geriatric Dogs -- Signs of Aging

Each member of every household, be that individual human or canine, will reflect the passage of time -- a wrinkle here or cracked paws there, graying hair or grizzling coat. Happens to us all. As he ages, your dog will begin to exhibit subtle symptoms, both behavioral and physical.

He will show some -- and eventually all -- of these signs:

  • He will sleep more than usual.
  • He won't wish to venture outside in inclement weather.
  • He will not want to jump up on a bed or sofa.
  • He will not want to go up stairs -- or down stairs.
  • His eating habits will change. He will leave his food or pick at it. He will lose weight.
  • His bowel movements will become less frequent, and there may be a problem with constipation and hard stools.
  • He will have reduced or impaired vision. His eyes will water, and crusts will form at the corners.
  • He will experience loss of hearing.
  • His skin will become dry and scaly. He will have some hair loss and thinning of coat.
  • He will become generally less mobile and may develop arthritis.
  • He will lose teeth (and have breath problems).

As these conditions arise and evolve, you can be your best friend’s best friend.

Response to the Aging Process

First and foremost, be alert to the onset of physical decline. Early detection and appropriate remediation can vastly improve quality of life. Here are some of the interventions I have discovered through the years that serve to address the conditions of aging as they emerge and that act to enhance and to extend the life of an older dog:

Teeth. A dog whose teeth have been kept clean, with limited tartar buildup, and who has had extractions when indicated tends to fare far better as he matures. In an older dog, teeth loosen and rot; small abscesses often form. (The dog can develop these conditions unbeknownst to his owner for as long as six months to a year before they become prominent and visible. To identify this process, look for bad breath and increased salivary action.) Unchecked, oral deterioration can dramatically weaken a dog’s immune system and invite potentially more serious illnesses. Avoidance of the dentist’s chair (or table) is not, therefore, an act of kindness. Never worry about a dog’s ability to eat. You can always soften good quality kibble -- as you do for puppies -- and feed that if a lot of teeth need to be removed. But, if you do have a vet clean teeth, make him aware that Norwich are extremely sensitive to anesthesia. You need to have him weigh your dog to ensure the proper dosage, do the proper bloodwork, and request that he does not remain under for any extended period of time and always seek out a dental specialist. A vet trained in dentistry will do a more complete job. Too many times it is the lab assistant who performs the dentistry cleaning in vet practices.


Coat. All sorts of skin disorders become more prevalent as a dog ages. I find that washing an elderly animal twice a month (I use SeboRex Shampoo by DVM) keeps the coat relatively clear of buildup and scaling. I then treat areas of hair loss or itching with a topical antibiotic (Dermagen Ointment by The Butler Company). I also find that, in the northern winter, a good conditioner (All Systems Cosmetic Skin and Coat Conditioner) helps to keep the skin moist; I rub and massage it all over the body. Once a month, I massage the whole body for circulation. They are so grateful you can reach a spot that cannot. I groom an older dog purely for his comfort. I pull the head, chest, and leg furnishings throughout the year. I keep the coat jacket clipped down with a 10 blade through the summer, from June until September, then let it grow out until the next June. As the dog gets even older, I cut away the hair around the eyes, ears, mouth and anus. I dampen a paper towel and clean these areas each several times a week.

Eyes. Be sure to keep your older dog’s eyes -- which, with age, are prone to water -- clear of encrustation. But, if you find that you are cleaning the eyes each day and using compresses to loosen the crusty build ups at the corners, most likely you have a cold in the eye or an allergy (Spring and Fall). You should get an antibiotic ophthalmic ointment and administer it three times a day after cleaning the eyes. Put a dab of the ointment in the corner of the eye and smear it across the lids. This should clear up any problem. If the problem persists, however, you may have a blocked tear duct (although this condition is quite rare in an older dog). Your vet can test an eye for a blocked tear duct with a saline dye solution, but, if the condition is identified, removal of the blockage will require surgery.


Elderly dogs often develop cataracts. As they grow, these bluish, cloudy masses obscure the iris and block vision. Some peripheral vision may remain, but the dog will begin to rely on the senses of smell and hearing -- and on his familiarity with his surroundings. Be aware that moving a blind or visibly impaired dog can shorten his life. If he has been accustomed to one environment in which can search out favorite areas and other dogs and masters and mistresses by smell and hearing, he can make the transition to loss of vision with relatively little stress. If transplanted, however, he will limit his range to the area where he is fed and where there is water and warmth. Any need to move beyond these limits would be traumatic and will upset the dog.

Ears. Keep the hair clipped short on the ear and trim any excess hair from the inside of the ear. Clean the ears with a Q-tip and purchase an ear wash or gel to keep them clean. (If there is an odor and black discharge, go to your vet and have the dog checked for ear mites.) Use multi-clear one administer it for two weeks every seven days. If the skin on the ears becomes dry and scaly, treat topically (again, I use the Dermagen Ointment).

Paws. In an older dog, the pads are apt to become cracked and dry. Moisturize occasionally with Vaseline. Keep the nails cut short to facilitate walking. And keep the hair between his paws and around the edges trimmed tightly. Check to make sure no small pebbles have worked their way into areas around the pads.

Loss of Mobility. Arthritis, hip weaknesses, and the plain old stiffness of age seem to be the principal deterrents to free movement. Glucosamine products (offered by most catalogs) seem to help somewhat. Several prescriptions provided by veterinarians (e.g. Rimadyl) can also help -- but these will upset the stomach over the long term. And it is critically important to keep your older dog eating. I find that one half of a St. Joseph’s children’s aspirin slipped into a small fold of American cheese three times a week during a bad period does as much of a job as a Norwich needs and doesn't change eating habits. Keeping a rotation of yogurt with cultures helps digestions. Prescriptions are available as well Fortiflora - Purina, Proviable - Nutromav.

Internal Problems. Your geriatric can get diarrhea from almost anything. It usually comes from another dog who inadvertently passes it on without itself showing symptoms. Or it can come from temperature change. It can come from overeating or from eating another dog’s food that is different from his existing diet. Diarrhea is treatable with Flagyl, but I first try to manage by diet, introducing rice or pasta. Watch for dehydration. Monitor the fluid intake and make sure that you syringe water into the mouth 5-10 ccs at a time to keep him rehydrated.


The Geriatric Diet. These suggestions are for an extremely old dog. The best way to keep weight on a geriatric is to feed three-to-four meals a day. (They don’t need to eat a lot, just often.) I start at 8:00 am with one quarter cup of cow’s milk diluted with one quarter cup of hot water. At noon, the dog gets one half cup of softened puppy kibble with cooked ground meat (I sometimes substitute chopped chicken for the ground meat), along with liquid puppy vitamins. At 4:00 PM, he gets one quarter can of Pedigree puppy food. As additives, he gets two tablespoons of cottage cheese three times a week and can have one eighth can of tuna fish packed in water once a week. On occasion, he likes yogurt, American, Cheddar and Swiss cheese. His system is tricky and depends on how much water he decides -- or is awake enough -- to drink. He can become constipated and will circle until he falls down, trying to go. You have to wait it out, but at the next solid feeding, introduce Metamucil by sprinkling half a teaspoon on his food and continue using this once a day until the stools seem normal. If you are going through a time where your dog will not eat try this:

  • 3 Tbsp Gerber Rice Cereal
  • 2 Tbsp Carnation Evaporated milk
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • a pulverized pet tab

Mix with hot water. It should be a little thicker than soupy. If the dog will not lick it up syringe small amounts into the side of the month. This should give him some energy and might kick start him back to eating. It certainly won’t upset him. This is exactly what I feed the puppies when weaning them from their mother amazing how it goes full circle.

Geriatric Dogs

The Decision Most Difficult -- and Most Gentle. You are the best judge of your pet’s health, and, as long as he recognizes you and retains some dignity in his life, you should continue to try to maintain, if not improve, its quality. But when your dog can no longer drink water on his own, when he cannot walk so that he urinates and defecates on himself, when he must continually be hand fed, then, in kindness, the time has come to make the appointment to put your dog down. Some vets will come to your home to euthanize your dog. You do not wait until he shuts down. That would be hard on the animal. Those memories of his last hours would be the ones that could shade and cloud all the wonderful experiences that you have had together.

It is difficult to replace this special dog with another right away. The new dog will never measure up. It is almost as though you don’t ever want to allow yourself to love any dog so intensely again. I suggest waiting a year. Grieving is part of the healing process and you need time to be sad and remember. The good memories start to overshadow the loss and you begin to miss having the activity and fun around the house. If you want the same breed take a puppy of the opposite sex. This gives everyone a fresh start.

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