Most people are familiar with the concept of dog years, where one year of a dog’s life is supposedly equivalent to seven years of a human’s life. This is mostly a myth.
Dogs do age at a much more rapid rate than their owners, but aging works on a different scale and varies depending upon the size of the dog.
If your dog is slowing down and starting to take things a little easier, this may be a sign that they’ve reached their senior years. Here’s everything you need to know about canine aging and caring for your dog during their golden years.
What Does It Mean To Be a Senior Dog?
Senior dogs are just like senior people. A senior dog who has lived a long, happy life full of adventures now needs things to calm down a little bit. In a lot of ways, senior dogs will behave similarly to senior people.
As your dog ages, their needs will evolve. While puppies require a wealth of time, attention, and training, senior dogs are usually already established in their routines. When your dog reaches their senior years, your most important priority as a pet owner should be ensuring that your dog is happy, healthy, and comfortable.
It’s important to make sure you’re meeting your senior dog’s changing needs. Proper veterinary care and advances in veterinary medicine have made it possible for dogs to thrive well into their senior years.
At What Age Do Dogs Become Seniors?
Dogs age differently from humans, and your dog’s growth and development will depend on their size and breed.
Some smaller dogs, like Shih Tzus, can live up to 16 years. Smaller dogs often reach seniorhood at around 10 to 12 years.
Medium-sized dogs, like basset hounds, generally live up to 12 years. They reach seniorhood at 8 to 9 years of age.
Large dogs, like St, Bernards, generally live up to 10 years. They’ll be considered seniors around the 6 to 7-year mark.
Giant breeds, like English Mastiffs, usually have a lifespan of 6 to 12 years. They’ll become seniors the soonest.
Generally, smaller dogs will live the longest. It’s not unusual for a small breed to remain playful and maintain a little bit of their puppy attitude in their spirit for several years. The larger the dog, the faster the dog will approach their senior years.
How Do I Know When My Dog is a Senior?
Your dog’s vet will be able to easily determine when your dog has reached their senior years.
There are a few telltale signs you should be able to spot on your own:
- The appearance of new silver or white hairs
- Changes in weight and appetite
- Loss of muscle or reduction in functional strength
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Opaque eyes that mimic the appearance of cataracts
- A decrease in overall mobility relating to joint health decline
- Reduced sensory perception, like hearing loss or diminished interest in the smell of food
- In some cases, signs of canine cognitive decline like confusion — signs of cognitive decline require immediate veterinary intervention
Some dogs will show signs of aging sooner than others. Adequate veterinary care throughout your dog’s life can delay the onset of some signs of aging or minimize their impact.
What Are the Medical Needs of Senior Dogs?
Older dogs have an increased vulnerability to conditions affecting joint and bone health. They’re also more prone to developing cancer.
Visiting the vet at least once a year (or bi-annually if feasible) will give your vet an opportunity to spot causes for concern much sooner. Immediate treatment always provides the best outcome.
If you have concerns relating to your senior dog’s health or wellness, don’t wait for regular checkups. Bring your senior dog to the vet immediately.
What Are the Dietary Needs of Senior Dogs?
Overweight dogs are prone to health complications and discomfort. These risks escalate as dogs age. Senior dogs have already put a significant amount of wear and tear on their joints, so excess body weight can exacerbate joint pain and significantly limit your senior dog’s mobility.
It’s important to use well-balanced dog food and feed your dog appropriately for optimal health and weight management. Many people use fresh dog food for their senior dogs. Senior dogs are often missing teeth, and many senior dogs live with gum disease. Fresh wet food is softer and easier for senior dogs to eat. It’s also tastier than hard, dry nuggets.
Older dogs may also experience cognitive decline. High quality dog foods are often fortified with fish oil or omega fats, which are known to promote regular brain health.
What Are the Exercise Needs of Senior Dogs?
Although older dogs are less inclined to be intrinsically motivated self-starters. They may not be begging you to go for a walk, but they still need one.
Keeping senior dogs active doesn’t need to be a challenge. All you need to do is find an activity your dog enjoys. Older dogs still like to fetch and hide. Older dogs with joint mobility issues may prefer gentle, low-impact forms of exercise like swimming.
Does My Senior Dog Still Need Mental Stimulation?
While the “use it or lose it” adage doesn’t perfectly apply to your dog’s mind, it’s a close approximation. Your dog needs continuous stimulation and new challenges.
“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks'' is an expression with no basis in reality. You can continue to teach your dog tricks throughout their life.
Puzzle toys are very helpful tools for keeping senior dogs curious and engaged. Your dog wants that treat, and if they have to dig, sniff, and nudge to get it, they will. Engaging your dog’s problem-solving skills keeps them sharp, and giving your dog fun activities and toys to play with will make them happier.
Making the Most of Your Dog’s Senior Years
Senior dogs may not have the fiery spirit of a young pup, but they have other gifts. Your senior dog wants to cuddle and watch TV with you. You’ll grow more comfortable with your bond with each other when you become old friends.
As long as you’re aware of your dog’s changing needs and you take care to meet them, your dog’s senior years will be just as enjoyable as every other stage of your dog’s life. Double-check the quality of your dog food and make sure you’re booking regular vet appointments.
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