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Grooming Your Senior Dog – Special Concerns

Grooming is an important aspect of your pet’s health care throughout his life. As your pet ages, taking an active role in grooming becomes even more important. Older pets often groom less, may have trouble cleaning those “hard to reach places,” or may develop skin conditions that require extra attention. You will have to take a more active role in keeping your pet clean and monitoring for any changes in skin and coat that may signal medical problems.

Changes in the Skin and Coat

A number of changes are possible in your pet’s skin as they reach their senior years. Skin that has been healthy may become dry and flaky. You may see dander on the surface of the coat. At the opposite end, skin may become excessively oily and feel greasy to the touch. These changes may reflect your pet’s inability to groom properly. Arthritis often makes it hard for some pets to reach certain places. Mental changes associated with aging may cause a lack of interest in normally fastidious pets. You may need to help out with more frequent brushings, bathings or medicated shampoos.

Diseases of the endocrine system are often first reflected in changes in the skin. A hormonal imbalance may make the skin thin and fragile. It may tear easily, or be slow to heal. You may see color changes, often light skin becoming dark and thickened in appearance. You may see small bumps that look like blackheads. Any change in the appearance, color or odor of the skin should be investigated by your veterinarian for underlying medical reasons.

Lumps and Bumps

As your pet ages you may notice that you begin to see or feel lumps or bumps both on and underneath the surface of the skin. All new skin growths should be evaluated by your pet’s doctor to determine if any further attention is needed. Some may only be a nuisance, aggravating your pet if they are located in sensitive areas, or may bleed from grooming or other activity. Some may be more serious, including tumors.
Another type of lump/bump you may see is a pressure sore. These sores arise at the points where there is not much cushion between bone and the hard surfaces on which your pet may lie. These are more common in large breed dogs but can be seen with more frequency as your pet ages and loses a bit of protective muscle mass. One such sore, a hygroma, occurs at the point of the elbow and is the body’s response to pressure on the area. Hygromas can become quite large, often looking like your dog has a tennis ball on his elbow. They can also become infected and painful from ingrown hairs. Other common locations for pressure sores are the sides of the knee and hip joints. If you see the beginnings of these types of sores, it is time to provide soft padded surfaces where your pet lies. These types of sores are difficult to treat.


Most pets dislike nail trims. The bad news is that as your pet ages, it becomes even more important to trim them and even more difficult to do. Nails often become thick and brittle with age. Pets may resent having their paws handled, further delaying the chore. Nails and nail beds may become overgrown. They can grow into the pads and be quite painful, and make walking a chore. Make it a habit to trim a small amount of nail on your dog or cat every two weeks to prevent overgrowth and make walking easier.

Grooming Aids

There are products that help make it easier and more comfortable to groom your senior pet. Look for brushes and combs that have plastic tipped teeth. These types of tools are more comfortable next to the skin. Wire brushes will help get those mats and pick up excess dander. Brushes that are made with the teeth set in a rubber back with foam padding underneath will be more comfortable. If your pet objects to water and needs bathing, check out the variety of waterless shampoos that may make the job easier and less stressful.

If your pet has long hair, keep the area around the rear end clipped short. Feces often mat in the hair causing skin irritations and unpleasant odors. Senior dogs and cats often fail to keep this area as clean.