As much as we don’t want to think about it, our furry friends age just like we do, and with getting older comes the need for special care and attention. Dogs age at different rates, but often show similar signs of aging. Let’s first look at what age your dog is considered a “senior,” then look at some common signs of aging every fur parent should know. Lastly, we will go over some tips on how to care for your senior dog.
At What Age Is Your Dog Considered “Senior”?
All dogs age differently and the age that your dog is considered a “senior” depends on their breed, lifestyle, diet, and more. Oftentimes, people want to think of their pet in human years because it makes it easier to relate to their aging process. Here are some common age equivalents according to various vets:
● When a small to medium-sized dog is seven years old, it is equivalent to about 44-47 years old in human years.
● When a large to extra large dog is seven, they are about 55 years old in human years.
● When a small or medium-sized dog is 10, they are about 60 human years.
● When a large dog is 10, they are about 66-78 years old in human equivalent.
● When a small or medium sized dog is 15 years old, that translates to being 76-83 in human years.
● When a larger dog is 15, they are about 93-115 years old in human years.
As you can see with these comparisons, larger dogs age faster than younger dogs and reach geriatric ages at around 7 years old (fun fact: the oldest recorded age of a dog is 29 years old!). In these comparisons, small to medium sized dogs are 0-50 pounds, while large and extra large dogs are 51 to over 90 pounds.
Now that we have an outline for what is considered senior age in different dog breeds, let’s look at some common signs of dog aging to look out for.
Signs of Dog Aging
It may be hard to watch your dog get older, but it is important to recognize signs of aging and know what to do when you see them. Let’s look at some of the most common signs of dog aging, including vision changes, bathroom habits, physical behavior, weight monitoring, and mental changes.
Just like humans, as dogs get older, they often lose part or all of their eyesight. The most common cause for loss of eyesight is cataracts.
Cataracts are a type of clouding on the lens of your dog’s eye. Cataracts can form for a number of reasons, although most are genetic. Diabetes is also a common cause of cataracts, so if you notice your dog’s eyesight getting cloudy, take them to the vet immediately. Nuclear sclerosis is another common vision condition found in older dogs that can be mistaken for cataracts.
On your regular vet visits, make sure they are checking your dog’s eyes for any signs of these generative conditions.
Incontinence is the inability to control bowel movements or urine and often affects older dogs. There are many causes for incontinence, including changes in their hormones, a weak bladder sphincter, UTI, and other general degeneration.
While incontinence may be a nuisance, you shouldn’t punish your dog for their accidents. Unlike when they were a puppy and being housebroken, senior dogs have no control over when they have an accident. Instead of punishment, make your dog feel more comfortable by providing them with clean bedding and putting waterproof pads where they often have accidents. It may help to also increase the amount of exercise and walks taken so your senior dog doesn’t have to hold their urine for as long.
Changes in Physical Activity
If your pup used to be able to play fetch all day but would now rather lounge on the couch, it may be because of his age. Most senior dogs will experience a change in physical activity and will tire quicker than they used to.
It’s important to identify this change because as a pet parent, you will have to adapt your exercise routine to fit your aging dog’s lifestyle. Some dog owners may think that when their dog gets older, they don’t have to take them on walks or exercise them anymore, but this is definitely not the case.
In fact, exercise is more important than ever for senior dogs because it helps keeps their heart healthy, immune system stronger, and will increase their mobility and flexibility. They key is adapting your exercise to your dog’s needs and to not push them past their comfort level.
As dogs get older, they often have weight changes that may be the result of a slower metabolism, a decreased appetite, or less strenuous exercise. While some weight fluctuations can be expected for dogs of any age, it’s important to really understand why your senior dog’s weight might be increasing or decreasing as these changes could be a sign of other internal issues.
For example, many vets identify a decreased appetite, and resulting weight loss, as one symptom of underlying kidney disease. While undoubtedly this isn’t the case for every senior dog that loses or gains weight, weight changes are definitely something to look into further.
When visiting your vet, suggest that they do a comprehensive exam, including comparing the weight of your dog from previous visits. Most vets will have these documented statistics available already, but it’s important to monitor your dog’s health as they age and note any significant changes.
As your dog’s brain ages, you might notice changes in their ability to remember and recall things like they used to. While not exactly the same, canine cognitive dysfunction is a lot like doggy Alzheimer’s and it presents itself in similar ways. For example, your dog may seem to forget the regular route on walks, forget where the food and water is kept, or doesn’t show the same enthusiasm about things he used to care about in the past.
Most aging dogs experience some sort of memory problems as they get older. In fact, in a study conducted by the Behavior Clinic at the University of California at Davis, researchers found that 28% of dogs aged 11 to 12 years and 68% of dogs 15 to 16 years old showed one or more signs of canine cognitive dysfunction.
If your dog seems to be experiencing canine cognitive dysfunction or other mental changes, take them to the vet immediately. Any brain changes must be examined by a professional to rule out any larger issues.
How to Help Your Senior Dog Age Gracefully
After discovering some common symptoms of aging in dogs, let’s look at some tips and lifestyle changes you can implement today to make sure your dog ages gracefully.
Schedule Vet Visits More Often
One of the best ways to make sure all of your dog’s health concerns are being addressed proactively is by scheduling more frequent vet appointments. When your dog was younger, you might have taken her to the vet once a year. But as dogs get older, they require more vet visits and each visit is likely more comprehensive and detailed. Most professionals recommend taking your dog to the vet twice a year after they are seven years old.
As you schedule more frequent vet appointments, you should also know the right questions to ask to get answers that will benefit you and your furry friend. Below are some questions we suggest asking your vet about your senior dog:
● “How is my dog’s weight?” – This is a really important question because a healthy weight translates into other aspects of your dog’s life. For example, obese dogs are more prone to heart and kidney issues, while underweight dogs will face other problems.
● “How’s my dog’s diet?” – In addition to the previous question, asking about your dog’s diet will assure that you are feeding your dog the correct type and amount of food.
● “How are my dog’s teeth and nails?” – As we will talk about later in this article, your dog’s dental hygiene can be a telling sign of other health issues. Much like a human’s hair and nails, dog’s teeth and nails show a lot of what is going on internally.
● “Does my dog need supplements?” – Some vets recommend senior dogs incorporate additional supplements into their diet to make up for aging and lack of nutrients. This is a great question for your vet.
All of these questions lead to great discussions on your dog’s overall health.
Diet and Nutrition Changes
Diet and nutrition needs are very important to examine at any dog age, but they are especially important as your dog gets older. Senior dogs have unique nutrition needs that are much different than younger dogs as older dogs tend to have a slower metabolism, are likely getting less exercise, and may be facing other health issues that are impacted by their diet.
Because of all these factors, you will want to really look into what you’re feeding your pup and whether or not this diet aligns with their needs. Most pet food brands feature different life stages of food, so look for the senior one for your older pooch. Always talk to your vet before implementing any diet changes to get a routine that is right for your dog’s situation and health needs.
Along with diet, it’s important to monitor your dog’s health and keep them at a healthy weight. As we mentioned earlier, an older dog’s weight might fluctuate because of lifestyle changes, diet changes, and more. While weight loss or gain can be indicative of a larger issue, it is beneficial to monitor your dog’s weight and make changes to their diet if necessary.
If your senior dog is tipping the scales, it can cause a host of other problems like liver issues, kidney issues, heart problems, and more. Just like humans, maintaining a healthy weight is key for a healthy life!
We mentioned the importance of exercising your senior dog, and this really comes into play when we are discussing a senior dog’s mobility. You may have noticed that it takes your dog longer to get up from sleeping or they may not leap into the car or run up the stairs like they used to. This is because as dogs age, they lose a lot of their flexibility and become less mobile.
And some breeds, like Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds are prone to hip problems, so it’s even more important for owners of these breeds to exercise them properly and have their hips continually monitored. Frequent walks will help keep your senior dog up and moving.
Vaccinations and Supplements
Vaccinations and supplements are going to be different for each dog, but adding these to your pup’s diet may be worth talking to your vet about. Some common vaccines for senior dogs include the core vaccines, such as parvovirus, distemper, and rabies, and other non-core vaccines, such as bordetella and leptospirosis. As your dog ages, their immune system will get weaker and any exposure to diseases becomes heightened. Again, always consult with your vet before deciding on which vaccines are right for your dog and their health.
Three of the most commonly recommended supplements for senior dogs include essential fatty acids, glucosamine with chondroitin sulfates, and probiotics.
These are just a few of the ways you can take care of your older dog and help make sure their life is healthy and comfortable. With a little work and understanding, your dog can live up his senior years in peace.