A dog’s stages of life can seem to fly by when you are caring for them. One day they are running around like crazy, and the next, they need an extra hand to get up onto the couch. As your pet goes through each stage of life, they are always relying on you, their human parent, to take care of them and to give them the love and care they need.
Watching your dog get older can be difficult, and depending on the breed and size of your dog, their senior years can be different. Physical and behavioral changes begin to take place, and health issues may arise more frequently. All breeds have different life expectancies, so taking that into account can help in planning your pup’s golden years.
There are some signs to look out for that your dog is beginning to start their senior stage of life. Recognizing them can help you to determine what the best care for your older pup is going to be. This way, the rest of your dog’s life will be happy, healthy, and loving.
The “1 Dog Year = 7 Human Years” Calculation
Most of us have heard that each year in a dog’s life is like seven human years – except this isn’t a proper calculation. Every dog breed you come across will have a unique calculation that usually depends on their size. The scale we’ve always been given is very general but doesn’t reflect the life stages of a dog properly.
For example, for the first two years of a dog’s life, it’s typical that the ratio is actually one dog year being equivalent to 10.5 human years. So by the age of two, a dog is at the same level of maturity as a 21-year-old human. Then for every year there on, you can add four human years. So a seven-year-old dog would be considered to be 41 in dog years.
Larger dogs tend to have shorter life spans than small dog breeds, so this math may not always make sense. And that’s okay! While the calculation is interesting, it’s not really indicative of how long your dog might live or when they might enter their senior years. Instead, taking note of certain signs can signal when your dog is entering the later stage of their life.
When Does My Dog Become a Senior?
Dog breeds have different life spans, so when they become a senior might depend on that. If a dog’s lifespan is ten years, years seven to ten might be considered the senior years, whereas a dog with a lifespan of 15 years could be deemed a senior from 11 to 14 years of age. Lifespan is heavily influenced by the dog’s size as well as other factors like health, exercise, and eating habits.
Small dogs under 20 or so pounds tend to age to maturity quicker than larger breeds of dogs, but after they mature, they age more slowly. Many small dog breeds have lifespans that reach upwards of 16 years, making their senior years from ages eight to 12 and on.
Every dog breed is unique, and some breeds are an exception to this generalization, but for the most part, small dogs have a longer life with fewer health-related issues (until they are much older than their larger counterparts).
Medium breeds between 20 and 50 pounds usually aren’t considered senior dogs until they are seven years or older. They might begin to show signs as early as seven of their aging process, but the more difficult changes might not be apparent until a few years later as their energy will not fizzle out first!
Large dogs typically have the shortest lifespans of other breeds. Some extra-larger breeds, like the Great Dane, have a lifespan of eight to ten years, so their senior years can start as early as age five or six. Other large-size breeds like Golden Retriever have a longer lifespan of ten to 12 years and don’t show signs of aging until they are a bit older — closer to eight or nine years.
Larger breeds can be prone to more health-related issues that can shorten their lifespan or contribute to more signs of aging than smaller dogs. Regardless, these dogs will have so much life in them until the very end and won’t let their old age slow them down too much.
What To Expect When Loving a Senior Dog
When your dog begins to age, there will be a few signs to let you know the process is starting.
Some signs to look out for are:
- Thinning and graying hair: Sometimes, one of the first signs a dog is aging is gray hair forming underneath their chins and around their eyes. Their hair may also feel less thick and begin to fall out.
- Cognitive decline: Older dogs can develop canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), which can cause irritation, agitation, confusion, and restlessness. They might have changes in their behavior, including becoming more stubborn and sleeping more often.
- Dental issues: Older dogs can have many dental problems, such as gum decay and teeth falling out. Their teeth will become weaker, so eating food can become challenging, and hard chew toys may be painful.
- Loss of mobility: As your dog ages, their joints might begin to hurt more due to arthritis. Going up and down stairs might become difficult, and getting onto the couch or bed might require additional support.
- Hearing and vision loss: Your dog might begin to lose their vision and hearing abilities. They might not answer your calls as frequently and could begin knocking into walls and objects in their path.
- Temperature regulation: Dogs get older and may struggle to regulate their body temperature. They might not be able to cool down as fast or stay warm enough, so you should keep an eye out during changes in the weather.
- Other medical issues: As dogs age, they are more likely to suffer from various medical issues. Issues like cataracts, kidney disease, and arthritis. Additionally, some cancers are more prevalent in older dogs, making regular vet check-ups a must.
- Reduced activity: Your dog might begin to slow down and find themselves napping more frequently. They might run around for a bit but rest for longer.
- Eating habit changes: Sometimes, as a result of dental issues (and sometimes as a result of other health issues), senior pups may change their eating habits. As dogs stop exercising as much, they might gain weight. Conversely, they may lose too much weight if they have trouble eating.
How Care Changes for Senior Dogs
Care changes as a result of the changes above. As your dog gets older, they will need more support from us people. They need more check-ups with the vet, and they need us to keep an eye on any abnormalities. We may have to change our patterns to keep up with care for our senior dogs.
Some ways that you could change how you care for your senior dog include:
- Instead of long walks daily, focusing on light physical therapy and training mental capacity can encourage your dog to feel young for longer.
- Switch from dry food to wet food as your dog’s dental issues increase, and it’s hard for them to chew.
- Provide sweaters or cooling jackets depending on the temperature to regulate your dog’s body temperature.
- Wake up in the middle of the night to bring them out to the bathroom as their bladder becomes weaker.
- Note any bumps or lumps that form on their body. Not every lump requires treatment and many that form are benign. But keeping track can help ease your own worries.
- Looking into joint supplements if your dog is struggling with their mobility. Sometimes providing stepping stools to get onto higher surfaces can help as well.
Get Answers with AskVet
As your pet ages, you will likely have many questions arise. With AskVet, you get access to Certified Pet Lifestyle Coaches (CPLC)™, who can provide professional advice about your dog’s aging process (or any other pet-related concern you may have).
Our teams of veterinarians and coaches can bring peace to your mind by coming up with exercise and diet plans that can improve your dog’s last stages of life. With AskVet, there is no such thing as a stupid question. If something is bothering or concerning you, you can ask us and get an insightful response every time.
Your dog counts on you to provide them with a happy home, and no matter what stage of life they are in, they are simply happy to be with the people they love. If your goal is to give them the best life, finding support from outside professionals can only help you! Sign-up today and have your old dog feeling like a brand-new pup again.