Older (geriatric) dog healthcare

Older (geriatric) dog healthcare

Senior dogs have different care requirements than those of younger dogs. Taking care of their specific needs will ensure that your senior pooch stays healthy, happy, and with you for many years to come.

At what age is my dog considered a senior dog or geriatric?

It mainly depends on the breed and the dog’s unique traits. Small breeds are considered old when they are 10 or 11 years of age. Medium sized breeds, like Golden Retriever, come seniors at the age of 8-10, and giant breeds are considered old by the age of 5 or 6.

  • Small sized breeds, under 9kg: 9 – 13 years old
  • Medium sized breed, 9 – 22kg: 9 – 11 years old
  • Large/Giant sized breed, over 22kg: 6 – 9 years old
Dog BreedAge ExpectancyDog BreedAge Expectancy
Afghan Hound12Jack Russell Terrier13.6
Airedale Terrier11.2Labrador Retriever12.6
American Staffordshire Terrier12.3Lurcher12.6
Basset Hound12.8Miniature Dachshund14.4
Beagle13.3Miniature Pinscher14.9
Bearded Collie12.3Miniature Poodle14.8
Bedlington Terrier14.3Random-bred/Mongrel13.2
Bernese Mountain Dog7Newfoundland (dog)10
Border Collie13Norfolk Terrier10
Border Terrier13.8Old English Sheepdog11.8
Boston Terrier15Pekingese13.3
Bull Terrier12.9Pug16
Bulldog6.7Rajapalayam hound11.2
Bullmastiff8.6Rhodesian Ridgeback9.1
Cairn Terrier13.2Rottweiler9.8
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel10.7Rough Collie12.2
Chow Chow13.5Scottish Deerhound9.5
American Cocker Spaniel12.5Scottish Terrier12
Dachshund12.2Shetland Sheepdog13.3
Dalmatian13Shiba Inu14
Doberman Pinscher9.8Shih Tzu13.4
English Cocker Spaniel11.8Siberian Husky13.5
English Setter11.2Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier13.2
English Springer Spaniel13Staffordshire Bull Terrier14
English Toy Spaniel10.1Standard Poodle12
Flat-Coated Retriever9.5Tibetan Terrier14.3
German Shepherd10.3Toy Poodle14.4
German Shorthaired Pointer12.3Vizsla12.5
Golden Retrievers12Weimaraner10
Gordon Setter11.3Welsh Corgi11.3
Great Dane8.4Welsh Springer Spaniel11.5
Greyhound13.2West Highland White Terrier12.8
Irish Red and White Setter12.9Wire Fox Terrier13
Irish Setter11.8Yorkshire Terrier12.8
Irish Wolfhound6.2

Here is some expert advice on keeping your aging dog healthy, happy and comfortable during their golden years


Since they cannot regulate their own body temperatures that well anymore, it’s important to keep them warm and cosy when it’s cold, and also not keep them outside in the sun when it’s really hot.

Appropriate diet

Ensure their diet is best suited for them, especially if you suspect they are overweight. We can help with an assessment and prescription food if necessary.


Keep your dog at a healthy weight, because excess weight can place unnecessary stress on their joints.


Regular exercise has many benefits, but speak to us about a recommended and appropriate exercise program for your pooch.


Regular vet checkups are one of the most important things when it comes to caring for older dog. We recommend bringing in older dogs once every 6 months.

Dental care

Keep your older dog’s teeth healthy either by washing it daily or giving him dental treats. Also, an annual dental visit to the vet is a very good idea!


Deworming and parasite treatments should continue as normal, but vaccinations do not need to be administered as often as with younger dogs. Check with us regarding your dog’s individual needs.


Brush your dog regularly, and use special shampoos if his skin is dry or irritated.


Help them move around the house, like providing an easy accessible bed, carpets and rugs for traction and if necessary, restricting access to difficult areas like staircases.


Spend lots of time with your aging dog, walking, playing, giving them treats and cherishing the memories and every day spent with them.

Food to keep away from your dog

Food to keep away from your dog

A comprehensive list of food that you should never feed your dog! If your dog has consumed any of these, please consult a vet to ensure the dog is monitored correctly.

Alcohol – I’m sure you’ve heard of the birthday parties where the dog accidentally gets into some of the spilled keg beer, and then gets all silly to the amusement of the crowd. While it may be funny to you, it’s not funny to your dog. Alcohol can cause not only intoxication, lack of coordination, poor breathing, and abnormal acidity, but potentially even coma and/or death.

Apple Seeds – The casing of apple seeds are toxic to a dog as they contain a natural chemical (amygdlin) that releases cyanide when digested. This is really only an issue if a large amount was eaten and the seed were chewed up by the dog, causing it to enter its blood stream. But to play it safe, be sure to core and seed apples before you feed them to your dog.

Avocado – Avocados contain Persin, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting, and heart congestion.

Baby Food – Baby food by itself isn’t terrible, just make sure it doesn’t contain any onion powder. Baby food also doesn’t contain all the nutrients a dog relies on for a healthy, well-maintained diet.

Cooked Bones – When it comes to bones, the danger is that cooked bones can easily splinter when chewed by your dog. Raw (uncooked) bones, however, are appropriate and good for both your dog’s nutritional and teeth.

Candy and Chewing Gum – Not only does candy contain sugar, but it often contains Xylitol, which can lead to the over-release of insulin, kidney failure, and worse.

Cat Food – Not that they would want this anyway, but cat food contains proteins and fats that are targeted at the diet of a cat, not a dog. The protein and fat levels in cat food are too high for your dog, and not healthy.

Chocolate – You’ve probably heard this before, but chocolate is a definite no no for your pup. And it’s not just about caffeine, which is enough to harm your dog by itself, but theobromine and theophylline, which can be toxic, cause panting, vomiting, and diarrhea, and damage your dog’s heart and nervous systems.

Citrus Oil Extracts – Can cause vomiting.

Coffee – Not sure why you would give your dog coffee, but pretty much the same applies here as to chocolate. This is essentially poison for your dog if ingested.

Corn on the Cob – This is a sure way to get your dog’s intestine blocked. The corn is digested, but the cob gets lodged in the small intestine, and if it’s not removed surgically, can prove fatal to your dog. Additionally, too much corn kernels can upset the digestive tract as well so be cautious to not feed too much.

Fat Trimmings – Can cause pancreatitis.

Fish – The primary fish that you need to be careful about are salmon and trout. Raw salmon can be fatal to dogs if the fish is infected with a certain parasite, Nanophyetus salmincola. The parasite itself isn’t dangerous to dogs, but is often infected with a bacteria called Neorickettsia helminthoeca, which in many cases is fatal to dogs if not treated properly. If diagnosis occurs early on, the dog has a great chance of recovering. Cooked salmon is fine as it kills the parasite.

Garlic – While garlic can be okay for dogs in very small amounts (and even beneficial for flea treatment), larger amounts can be risky. Garlic is related to onions which is toxic for dogs so it may be best to just avoid it.

Grapes and Raisins – This is one that lots of dog owners are unaware of. Grapes contain a toxin that can cause severe liver damage and kidney failure. We’ve heard stories of dogs dying from only a handful of grapes so do not feed your pup this toxic food.

Hops – An ingredient in beer that can be toxic to your dog. The consumption of hops by your dog can cause panting, an increased heart rate, fever, seizures, and even death.

Human Vitamins – Some human vitamins are okay to use, but the key is comparing the ingredients (all of them – active and inactive) to the vitamins your vet subscribes for your dog (often you can get the human equivalent for much less money). Make sure there’s no iron – iron can damage the digestive system lining, and prove poisonous for the liver and kidneys.

Liver – In small amounts, liver is great but avoid feeding too much liver to your dog. Liver contains quite a bit of Vitamin A, which can adversely affect your pup’s muscles and bones.

Macadamia Nuts – These contain a toxin that can inhibit locomotory activities, resulting in weakness, panting, swollen limbs, and tremors as well as possible damage to your dog’s digestive, nervous, and muscle systems.

Marijuana – Not that you would pass the bong to your dog, but if you do, you should know that marijuana can adversely affect your pup’s nervous system and heart rate, and induce vomiting. Read more about Dogs and Marijuana.

Milk and Dairy Products – While small doses aren’t going to kill your dog, you could get some smelly farts and some nasty cases of diarrhea. Why? Dogs are lactose intolerant (as are an increasing number of humans today), and don’t have enough of the lactase enzyme to properly digest dairy foods. If you really need to give them dairy, look into lactose-free dairy products.

Mushrooms – Just as the wrong mushroom can be fatal to humans, the same applies to dogs. Don’t mess with them.

Onions and Chives – No matter what form they’re in (dry, raw, cooked, powder, within other foods), onions are some of the absolute worst foods you could possibly give your pup (it’s poisonous for dogs, and its even worse for cats). They contain disulfides and sulfoxides (thiosulphate), both of which can cause anemia and damage red blood cells.

Persimmons, Peaches and Plums – Peach pits are not only a choke hazard they contain amygdalin, a cyanide and sugar compound that degrades into hydrogen cyanide (HCN) when metabolized. Pear seeds also contain trace amount of arsenic and are dangerous. So if you live in an area that is home to persimmon, peach, or plum trees, look out. Persimmon seeds and peach and plum pits can cause intestinal obstruction and enteritis. You’ll want to make sure there aren’t any wild persimmon or other fruit trees that produce seeds growing in your backyard. If you notice your dog pooping all over the place, and see a bunch of seeds or pits in their waste, you’ll need to break out the saw and chop down some trees.

Rhubarb and Tomato Leaves – These contain oxalates, which can adversely affect the digestive, nervous, and urinary systems.

Raw Fish – Another vitamin B (Thiamine) deficiency can result from the regular consumption of raw fish. Loss of appetite will be common, followed by seizures, and in rare instances, death.

Salt – Just like salt isn’t the healthiest thing for humans, it’s even less healthy for dogs. Too much of it can lead to an imbalance in electrolyte levels, dehydration and potentially diarrhea.

Spices containing Capsaicin – Capsaicin, found in chili powder, paprika, and just about any other pepper (bell, chili, etc.), is an irritant for mammals of all shape and size.

String – While not a food itself, foods can often contain or be similar to string (ie. meat you’ve wrapped for the oven). If your dog were to eat a string, it could get stuck in their digestive tract and cause complications.

Sugar – This applies to any food containing sugar. Make sure you check the ingredient label for human foods – corn syrup (which is a less expensive form of sugar or glucose) is found in just about everything these days. Too much sugar for your pup can lead to dental issues, obesity, and even diabetes.

Tobacco – A major toxic hazard for dogs (and humans). The effects nicotine has on dogs are far worse than on humans. Nicotine can damage your pup’s digestive and nervous systems, increase their heart rate, make them pass out, and ultimately result in death.

Xylitol – A sugar alcohol found in gum, candies, baked goods, and other sugar-substituted items, Xylitol, while causing no apparent harm to humans, is extremely toxic to dogs. Even small amounts can cause low blood sugar, seizures, liver failure, even death for your pup.

Yeast (on its own or in dough) – Just like yeast rises in bread, it will also expand and rise within your pup’s tummy. Make sure they don’t get any. While mild cases will cause gas, lots of farting, and discomfort – too much of it could rupture their stomach and intestines.

Heatstroke in pets

Heatstroke in pets

Nelspruit is well known for its extremely hot and humid summers. If you are feeling hot and dehydrated today, imagine how it must feel with an extra layer of fur! Since dogs are not as efficient at releasing heat as we are, it’s important to keep your pets cool and hydrated. Heatstroke in pets is a very serious condition and can escalate in a matter of minutes.

Did you know that certain dogs, like flat-faced/ brachycephalic dogs (Pugs, Bulldogs, Boxers etc), older and overweight dogs are more prone to heatstroke?  Even dogs who enjoy constant exercise and playtime such as Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds and Border Collies should be closely monitored for symptoms of heatstroke, especially on hot days.

Knowing how to treat a pet experiencing heatstroke or overheating may be vital to saving your pet’s life. Luckily, it’s not difficult to spot signs of overheating in pets.

Warning signs and common symptoms of heat exhaustion or heatstroke in your pet

  1. Excessive panting or difficulty breathing
  2. Increased heart rate
  3. Dehydration (dry nose, visible tiredness, excessive panting and sunken eyes, if you lift a bit of skin at the back of the neck and it stays up like a tent)
  4. Excessive drooling and thick saliva
  5. Fever (anything over 39.2°C)
  6. Bright red, grey, purple or bluish gums
  7. Lack of urine
  8. Disorientated and dizzy
  9. Vomiting & Diarrhoea (possibly with blood)
  10. Seizures & Unconsciousness

Any signs of heatstroke must be treated as an absolute emergency and the dog must go to the vet immediately 

Treatment of dehydration and heatstroke

  1. Move the dog into the shade
  2. Pour small amounts of room temperature or cool water onto their body (never ice-cold water)
  3. Do not cover him with damp or soaked towels as this will prevent the heat from escaping
  4. Apply cold water or ice packs only under the armpits and groin
  5. Help them to drink small amounts of room temperature water
  6. Once breathing settles, get your pet to the vet urgently
  7. Stroking the ears (from the base to the tip) can help to calm your dog down.

Even if your dog appears to have recovered, it is essential to go straight to a vet.

Prevention and tips to keep your pet cool

  • Provide plenty of shade outside
  • Allow them access to a pool or create a small dog pond for them
  • Hose them down with a gentle spray of water from a hosepipe
  • Gently wipe down your cat with a wet towel
  • Keep the windows open and use a fan/air conditioner indoors
  • Use ice bricks under their beds to keep it cool
  • Freeze their chew toys as a cool toy for them to play with
  • Refrigerate or freeze their wet food as a frosty treat or freeze pieces of food such as chicken in a cube of water as an ice cube treat
  • Some dogs even enjoy licking and chewing on a regular water ice block or chicken or beef broth ice blocks.
  • Don’t encourage play or exercise your pets during hot weather (keep it to early mornings or late evenings)
  • Consider trimming your pet’s fur if it’s long or thick
  • Never, ever, leave your pet in a car!
Mosquito risk and your pet

Mosquito risk and your pet

Did you know your pet is not immune to mosquito bites?

Mosquito bites on dogs

Mosquito bites are not only annoying but can cause serious allergic reactions and infections, as well as the added risk of transmitting serious diseases.

Allergic reactions and infections

Your dog could suffer an allergic reaction to mosquito bites. You might see your dog suddenly licking, chewing or scratching himself. Mosquito bites can cause swelling, redness and hives in a dog. A single mosquito bite can cause enough itch and irritation to result in excessive scratching or chewing at the skin. Although such an allergy often remains a local skin irritation, it could also, in severe cases, lead to a skin infection.

Symptoms of Mosquito Bite Allergies in Dogs

The allergic reaction to mosquito bites can range from mild to critical. 

Mild reactions

  • Bumps
  • Obsessive Licking
  • Pawing at the face
  • Localized swelling
  • Vocalizations

Moderate reactions

  • Chewing of feet
  • Fever
  • Hives
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pronounced localized swelling
  • Rash on the face or paws
  • Swelling of the face

Critical reaction (anaphylactic shock) 

  • Cold limbs
  • Coma
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Excessive drooling
  • Low blood pressure
  • Pale gums
  • Seizures
  • Sudden diarrhoea
  • Sudden vomiting

If your pet’s symptoms progress from mild to moderate, contact your veterinarian and take your dog to the nearest veterinarian or emergency animal clinic right away. In some cases, symptoms of insect allergy can move from moderate to lethal in less than five minutes. 

Diseases transmitted by mosquitos

There have been reports of dogs contracting the West Nile virus through mosquito bites. The symptoms are generally confined to a light fever and lethargy.

Horses are more susceptible to illness from West Nile virus and, though most horses recover from the virus, it can be deadly in some cases. The virus invades horses’ central nervous systems and may cause inflammation of the brain.

Symptoms of West Nile Virus in horses may include a general loss of appetite and depression. The following are also possible symptoms of infection in horses:

  • Fever
  • Weakness or paralysis of hind limbs
  • Impaired vision
  • General weakness
  • Head pressing
  • Aimless wandering
  • Convulsions/seizures
  • Inability to swallow
  • Walking in circles
  • Hyperexcitability
  • Coma

Fortunately, there is a West Nile virus vaccine for horses, so talk to your vet about getting your horse immunized. 

Protecting your pets from Mosquitos

  • Stay inside (and keep your pets with you) around sunrise and sunset when mosquitoes are often most active.
  • Avoid swamps, lakes and other areas infested with mosquitoes.
  • When spending time outdoors with your dog, avoid wearing floral scents as these attract mosquitoes.
  • Install window and door screens to prevent mosquitoes access to your home. Repair any holes in screens.
  • Certain plants (like Basil, Lemongrass, Chrysanthemums, Mint, Rosemary, Lavender, Catnip) around your garden can keep the mosquitoes at bay.
  • Eliminate standing water around your home where mosquitoes can breed.
  • Never use human insect repellent on your pets – Pets’ grooming habits can cause them to ingest this repellant which can be toxic. Never use products specifically designed for dogs on cats, or for cats on dogs. Speak to your vet today about a suitable product for your pet to safely repel insects.
  • Keep your horse stabled around dawn and dusk.
  • Use fly sheets, masks and leg wraps as well as equine-approved mosquito repellants on your horses.
  • Avoid lighting incandescent lamps inside the stall area at night because they attract mosquitoes. Burning an incandescent lamp away from the stalls may help draw mosquitoes away.
  • Place fans in stalls. Mosquitoes are somewhat repelled by air movement.

Links to natural homemade DIY mosquito repellants for your pets:

What to do when your dog or cat has been stung by a bee

What to do when your dog or cat has been stung by a bee

Dogs are very curious creatures, and in the summer, unfortunately, that means they will be investigating all the creatures of the world with their noses and paws – the two prime targets of insect stings.

A sting on your dog’s sensitive nose is extremely painful. Some dogs may even get stung on the tongue or inside their mouth or throat if they try to bite or catch an insect. These stings can be dangerous – the subsequent swelling can close your dog’s throat and block his airway.

Multiple stings are dangerous. Most of the time, an insect sting is just painful and irritating for your dog. Getting stung several times, or stung inside the mouth or throat, is dangerous and requires a trip to the veterinarian.

Bee and wasp stings are poisons. The two most common types of stinging insects are bees and wasps. It’s not the small puncture wound that causes the sting’s pain, but the small amount of poison that is injected.

  • A bee’s stinger is barbed and designed to lodge in the skin, killing the bee when the stinger detaches from the body
  • Wasp stingers are not barbed but are more painful, and if provoked these insects can sting multiple times


1. Remove the stinger as quickly as possible

A simple sting should be bothersome only temporarily. In most cases, there will be mild swelling and tenderness where the dog or cat was stung, usually on the face or paws. If it is swollen and a little puffy, it is a localized reaction to the sting.

If a stinger is still present, try to remove it by scraping it with a fingernail or a rigid piece of cardboard or credit card. Do not try to remove the stinger with your fingers, tweezers or forceps, because this may cause the venom sac to rupture and force more venom out of the stinger.

2. Watch for severe allergic reactions or anaphylactic shock

A severe reaction can be caused by a large number of stings or by an allergic reaction. Signs of a reaction include:

  • General weakness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A large amount of swelling extending away from the sting site
  • Starts vomiting within 5-10 minutes
  • Gums turn pale

If your dog is having a severe reaction, you need to take the dog to a vet immediately.

Depending on your dog’s condition, your pet may need to be hospitalized and the veterinarian may administer medications such as antihistamines, steroids and epinephrine as well as intravenous fluids and oxygen.

3. Administer a remedy for the pain

Wrap ice, an icepack or a pack of frozen vegetables in a towel and apply it to the wound to reduce swelling and pain. You can also run a washcloth under some cool tap water and then wrap it around or press it onto the site of the sting.

Contact your veterinarian who will advise you what over-the-counter medicine can be administered, as well as the correct dosage based on your pet’s weight.

It’s very important to consult a doctor before giving your pets any kind of medicine, especially medicine intended for humans.

4. Monitor your dog afterwards

Observe your dog closely after the sting incident to ensure an allergic reaction doesn’t develop and the swelling does not increase or spread. If several days pass and the swelling doesn’t go down, notify your veterinarian.