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When does a dog become a Senior?

Posted by Animal Care Team on
Puppy and adult golden retriever on a bed

Wherever you live, no matter how many times you’ve moved, and regardless of how masterfully you hide your grey, AARP will find you on your 50th birthday and send you a card. Dogs don’t receive such an obvious “Welcome to Senior Life,” notification. But it’s important for pet parents to be aware of signs of aging in our furry family members. That way, we can adjust care and nutrition to keep them at their healthiest—and happiest.

When does your pet become a “senior?”

New research has debunked the old formula of equating seven dog years for every human year. In 2019, researchers at the University of California San Diego published a study of Labradors suggesting a new method for calculating dog age. Their method focused on changes to human and dog DNA over time—what is known as the epigenetic clock. Basically, they found that dogs age faster than humans during their first few years of life and remain in middle-age longer than people do.

The math for figuring out your pup’s “true age” is definitely trickier than simply multiplying by seven, but the researchers provided a helpful visual chart that relates your dog’s advancing age with images of the Hollywood version of a Labrador Retriever: Tom Hanks.

An aging comparison between people and dogs using actor Tom Hanks

Read the full article here:

The American Veterinary Medical Association considers large dogs (51 pounds+) senior when they reach five or six and small dogs (under 20 pounds) senior at 7. Beyond just size, lifestyle and diet also affect how a dog ages. The oldest dog on record, Bluey, was a medium-sized Australian cattle dog who lived for 29 years and five months, most of them spent working cattle and sheep, which may have contributed to her longevity.


Signs of aging

Here are a few of the most common signs of aging in dogs:

Slowing Down

The dog who would drop her ball at your feet for hours until you had to confiscate it to regain feeling in your throwing arm may now actually end the fetching fest herself. Your hiking buddy begins to take rest stops on his own. Or, your best friend may have extended the length of his daily sofa siesta. A slower pace can be a natural part of aging. Remember, however, that exercise is more important than ever for senior dogs because it helps keep their heart healthy, strengthen their immune system and help retain mobility and flexibility. Keep an eye on how your dog feels after exercise. If they seem sore or extra tired the day of or the day after, think about scaling back on duration and/or intensity. Consider more frequent, shorter walks or fetch sessions and lower impact activities, like swimming. Going out more often also gives dogs more opportunities to relieve themselves, which older friends appreciate.

Also, notice if your dog seems less willing to hop up or down into and out of your car or use stairs. This may be a sign of joint discomfort and arthritis that often accompanies aging. Ask your veterinarian about medications and supplement that can help keep them comfy.

Cloudy Eyes

Lots of dogs’ eyes begin to grow cloudy as they age, a condition called nuclear sclerosis. This is a natural condition of aging in dogs and does not lead to blindness. Sometimes, though, clouding can be a sign of more serious problems, like cataracts, which can lead to vision loss, so if you notice your dog’s eyes growing cloudy, let your vet know.

Just as in people, dogs’ vision can change as they age. While some signs are obvious, like bumping into furniture, other signs are more subtle. They may be leery about going down stairs. Or, their previously perfect treat catching capacity may start to slip.

Change in Bathroom Habits

Incontinence, the inability to fully control urine or bowel movements, often develops in older dogs. Hormonal changes, a weakening bladder sphincter or achy joints that make it ouchy for dogs to squat or lift their legs can all lead to incontinence, which occurs more frequently in senior female dogs than older male dogs. Incontinence can also be a symptom of a larger issue, such as kidney disease, diabetes or dementia, so have your vet check for underlying causes. Your veterinarian can actually prescribe drugs to help improve the power of the muscles that hold urine in the bladder.

Cognitive Disfunction

Just as humans may develop dementia, our furry family members may also experience age-related cognitive decline. In fact, 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. Vets use the acronym DISHAL to help remember the specific signs to look out for:

Disorientation. For example, staring at walls, getting “stuck” behind furniture.

Interactions: Abnormal social interaction between other pets and people.

Sleep-Wake Cycle: Increased sleep during the night or difficulty sleeping.

House soiling: Including eliminating inside right after being outside.

Activity changes: May include repetitive activities like pacing.

Memory loss: May include difficulty performing previously learned tasks.

These symptoms may be indicators of natural aging, too—or, they may signal other underlying conditions, so make sure your vet is aware of them.

Weight Changes

            If your mature dog is growing heavier, it may be that while they are still enjoying the same amount of food they have since graduating to “adult” food years earlier, their amount of exercise has decreased and their metabolism has slowed as they age. Older dogs may also begin to drop weight as a result of the decreasing muscle mass that comes with aging—or trouble with teeth that have chomped on thousands of bones. Any time your dog loses or gains 10% or more of their body weight, see your vet to explore underlying causing.


Time to switch nutrition & supplements

If you notice any of the above signs of aging, it may be time to shift to senior versions of food and supplements. The Missing Link Senior Supplements provide powerful support to help keep them wagging and playing through their golden years. This long-trusted superfood formula is specially designed to help relieve occasional age-related stiffness, support healthy bones, promote healthy skin, coat and digestion and enhance cardiovascular function in canine senior citizens.

Here is how the ingredients help your older dog thrive:

  • Glucosamine and New Zealand Green Mussel support flexibility mobility and comfort
  • Balanced omega-3 and 6 fatty acids support a healthy immune system, sustained energy levels and healthy skin and coat.
  • Gingko biloba supports eye, brain and memory to help cognitive function

As you admire how distinguished your dog appears with hints of gray around their muzzle, keep an eye out for other signs of aging so you’ll know when to talk to your vet about upgrading nutrition so you can do everything you can to keep your furry family member feeling their very best.

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