How to keep your older dogs happy and healthy


05 July 2022
Andrea McHugh reports on how she's taking care of 13-year-old cross-breed Coco...

It seems such a short time ago that we brought home Coco, our gorgeous little cross-breed puppy. It’s unbelievable that we celebrated his 13th birthday in July, and although he remains happy, healthy, and playful, I wanted to know how we can ensure our older friends remain this way for as long as possible.

My first stop was to book a veterinary check-up. We visited Avenue Vets in Grantham, Lincolnshire, and were seen by vet Hannah Poddubiuk. Hannah began by asking how Coco was. I explained that he is generally very well, loves to walk with my other dogs, shows no sign of slowing down, and comes along to our weekly heelwork to music class to do the last 10 minutes or so, as he really enjoys training. Hannah checked Coco’s weight and thankfully this was perfect for his age and breed (which is Maltese crossed with Chinese Crested Powder Puff). Hannah explained how important it is to monitor the weight of older dogs.

“Obesity is a huge problem in dogs,” she explained. “I’d estimate that 30 – 40 per cent of animals we see are overweight. Coco, however, is a perfect weight.”

Hannah listened carefully to his heart and, for the first time, detected a heart murmur. “This is a grade 3 heart murmur and is probably mitral valve disease, which usually means the valve is not closing properly,” she explained.

“It’s quite common in toy breeds and although not curable, can be managed with medication if necessary. I would advise a heart scan, so that we have something to compare it to in the future, if medication is required.

“Signs of heart deterioration could be exercise intolerance, coughing, and general lethargy. A heart scan is basically a non-invasive ultrasound scan. Some dogs require sedation, but Coco is very laid-back so probably won’t need that.” Hannah advised that a heart scan costs about £500, but as it is covered by Coco’s insurance, I plan to get it done.


Hannah checked Coco’s joints and range of movement, which are excellent. I think his HTM and regular walks keep him fit and supple, as well as the play sessions he has with our puppy, Dash.

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“When older dogs start to move less it leads to reduced muscle mass, which leads to weakness,” Hannah explained.

“Then, because the dogs feel weak, they move less and lose more muscle. It’s a vicious circle, which can result in dogs going off their back legs. Joint supplements, dietary changes, and pain relief can help encourage more movement as well as hydrotherapy, massage, and specific exercises.

“Signs to look for are stiff ness on waking, struggling with stairs, and hesitating to walk or do things they once enjoyed. Some signs are more subtle, such as sleeping more, or reluctance to jump on the sofa. The Canine Arthritis Management website ( is a great resource with lots of tips and advice.

“Older dogs who struggle with movement will probably be quite happy with 10 – 15 minutes of walking each day. To help them feel part of things, you could consider using a buggy or backpack so they can still go on longer walks with you.”


Coco’s teeth showed some brown staining. “His upper teeth have brown calculus on them and will need descaling under anaesthetic at some point,” advised Hannah. “Because we have found a heart murmur, I’d advise doing the heart scan first, and doing the teeth in the next six to 12 months. This would be done under anaesthetic, and we can check his mouth thoroughly, clean his teeth, and remove any wobbly ones.”

Read the rest of the feature in the AUGUST ISSUE, available to read instantly on our digital edition HERE or purchase the print edition HERE

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