Getting old is never fun for anyone, and if you have a dog, they probably start to feel a difference when they reach their elder years as well.
Our bones start to ache, things we used to do with ease become a chore, and our interests and activities become different as well.
Just like the older members of our communities and households, senior dogs might also need a change in lifestyle when they start to age.
There might not be any dramatic things that have to occur at first, but just being away that their status has changed to a senior dog can help you make the transition a lot easier for them.
So, when is a dog considered a senior?
As dog breeds vary so much in size and genetic makeup, there’s no official age when you could call one a senior. Therefore, it’s better to look at the breed of the dog to determine their senior years, which can range from just five or six and up to 11 years old.
If you have a dog nearing their senior years or one already there, it’s important to know how to care for them. As they enter this special stage of life there are things you can do to make them more comfortable and healthier, to ensure they stay with you and your family for many years to come.
The Concept of Dog Years Explained
There’s a common misconception that to calculate a dog’s true age in human years, you take their age and multiply it by seven.
A puppy, therefore, would be a small child, but a dog you’ve had for 10 years would be in their 70s, and almost officially in their senior phase.
As the years have gone on and we’ve learned more about dogs, there are new ones to calculate dog years and how they related to our own. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, you can determine dog years more accurately by breaking it down like this:
- The first year of a medium-size dog’s life is equivalent to 15 years of human life.
- The second year of a dog’s life is about nine years of a human’s life.
- Every year after that for a human is equal to five years for a dog, up until the day they pass.
By looking at it this way, we can see that the old myth about seven years per dog year doesn’t stack up. You might have noticed in your dog that they seem younger or older than this previous calculation would have them be, so using the new method probably makes more sense.
When is a Dog Considered a Senior?
If you’ve had your dog a long time, you might notice changes in them that indicate to you they’re slowing down and no longer the boisterous, active pup you once knew.
So, when officially can we say that a dog has entered the senior phase of their life?
A smaller breed of dog will usually live longer than larger breeds, and when they reach around seven years old they can be classed as a senior. In the larger breeds and due to their shorter lifespans, you can expect the dog to become a senior officially when they reach between five and six years of age.
There’s still no scientific reason why smaller breeds of dogs tend to live longer than their larger counterparts, as it’s not always the case with other animal species. However, it was established that for every 4.4lbs of body mass a dog had, their life span was reduced by about a month. The reason for this is still unknown, although there are lots of theories out there to consider.
The classification of a senior dog is done by vets and other animal experts based on their health predominantly. Around this time, you’ll start to notice health issues arise that weren’t there before, even if their personality and energy level has yet to change.
Therefore, you’ll have to take care of them in a whole new manner when they venture into senior territory, to ensure they continue to live happily and healthily.
Making Life Easy for Your Senior Dog
Our goal as dog owners is to make the best life possible for our four-legged friends. As they age and enter into their senior years, this means making some adjustments so they can continue to be happy and comfortable no matter their age.
Consider these things when you’re dealing with an older dog to ensure they’re looked after.
Diet and Nutrition
Diet is the biggest change a senior dog will experience, and this includes their everyday feeding routine and well as nutritional supplements, they might need.
Toys and Games
The way your dog plays will be different now, and they might prefer to slow things down a bit. Opt for food puzzle games that still let them use their dog instincts but in a gentle way that doesn’t get them too stimulated.
Dogs still need regular exercise, even in their senior years, but you might want to change things a bit if your dog seems to be struggling with their old routine.
Slower paced walks are good, as is changing the route to a flat surface if they can’t climb hills the same as they used to. Backyard games are good for keeping them active without wearing them out too much.
Your dog will need a proper place to sleep that’s supportive of elderly canines. A thick and supportive bed is required, as is an easy way for them to step into the bed if it’s up high.
You probably find your dog sleeps more than usual in their older years, so you want to make sure they’re comfortable.
Some things that you used to do with your dog might become harder, so it’s up to you to accommodate them. If your pet is used to coming camping, fishing, or hiking with you and it seems too hard, don’t force them to do anything that they can’t do comfortably.
Vet Check-Ups and Health
Come up with a schedule with your dog’s vet as to when they need to be seen to, with visits now including more regular all-over body checks.
Your vet can direct you to make changes in their diet or recommend supplements to help with health issues like hip dysplasia, kidney disease, and heart disease.
As dogs age, their teeth become more of a concern. Brush their teeth regularly or use dedicated dental treats and toothbrushes that help them to keep things clean. Have the plaque removed if it’s built up too much and is causing issues.
Have a look around your home to establish what might need to change to make your dog happy. They may require a special step to help them get on the sofa or into the car, a new type of lead, or carpeting and rugs placed over hard surfaces of the house to keep their paws comfortable. Bankrate’s Guide to Caring for Senior or Special Needs Pets provides other great tips for keeping your pet safe at home and while traveling.
Dogs go through so many important changes and phases in their life that we as their owners and caretakers need to understand each of them.
Whether you have a puppy or a senior dog in your family, there’s a lot to learn, and we’ve answered some commonly asked questions on their care that can help you out.
Can Old Dogs Get Alzheimer’s Disease?
Although Alzheimer’s disease is a human condition, there is a similar disease called Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome that can cause the same symptoms in dogs.
Physical evidence has been found of degenerative brain lesions in dogs, and these are said to progress further with age, just like Alzheimer’s.
How Long Is a Dog a Puppy?
Just as a dog becomes a senior at different times depending on its breed, so too does it graduate from the puppy stage differently as well.
For larger dog breeds, your pet will be a puppy for around 15 months. Smaller dog breeds will usually grow out of the puppy stage around nine months, so their diets should be adjusted accordingly.
How Long Does a Dog Live?
The average lifespan of a dog depends on a few factors including its size, breed, genetics, and medical history.
A healthy dog will live between 10 and 13 years on average, but this can differ due to many factors. The oldest recorded dog lived to be 29 years of age, although this is highly unusual.