Today, our Santa Rosa vets discuss at what age a dog is considered to be a senior, how to spot signs of aging, and the special care requirements that an aging dog may need.
How Old Is a Senior Dog?
You're probably familiar with the notion that one human year is equivalent to seven dog years—but it's not quite that simple. Specific dog breeds age at a different pace compared to others.
In general, smaller dogs do not age as quickly as large-breed dogs. Here is a general guide:
Small breeds are considered senior dogs around 10-12 years old.
Medium breeds are considered senior dogs around 8-9 years old.
Large and giant breeds are considered senior dogs around 6-7 years old.
Signs That Your Dog Is Getting Old
You will notice both physical and mental changes in your dog as they get older. While some of these changes are due to the natural process of aging (such as grey hair around their muzzle) and don't need any specific vet care, other changes may require veterinary attention to ensure your pup maintains its health and comfort as much as possible.
Some signs that your dog is getting older include:
- White hairs on the muzzle and face
- Vision and/or hearing loss
- Weight gain or loss
- Gum disease or tooth loss
- Loss of muscle tone
- Arthritis and joint issues
- Reduced liver, kidney, and heart function
- Sleeping more or difficulty sleeping
- Reduction of mental acuity
Care Requirements for Your Senior Dog
There are several things you can do to help your pup maintain its comfort and well-being as they get older.
The first step to caring for a senior dog is to prioritize regular vet visits. By taking your senior dog for routine wellness exams, you're allowing your vet to screen for any emerging geriatric conditions and begin treatment as soon as possible. Your veterinarian will assess your senior dog's nutrition levels and mobility, and provide recommendations for any adjustments that would benefit your dog, such as exercise or diet changes.
Besides the physical benefits of a good diet, proper nutrition may be able to help your dog maintain their cognitive function as they age. Dogs, just like humans, can suffer from dementia or Alzheimers-like conditions. Feeding your dog food that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, along with providing them with proper exercise, may help them maintain mental alertness.
There is also a range of prescription diets and supplements available for senior dogs that are targeted to the various health conditions that they experience. Speak with your vet to see if they recommend a specific diet or supplement for your pup.
As your dog ages, its nutrition needs will likely change. As senior dogs slow down and exercise less, they become more prone to weight gain. Excess weight gain can cause other health issues, including joint pain and cardiovascular conditions. Speak to your vet about adjusting your dog's daily calorie intake or switching to a food that is specifically formulated for weight loss.
Exercise - Physical & Mental
Along with regular physical exercise, it is important that senior dogs also receive some sort of mental stimulation. It's never too late to teach your pup a new trick or bring home a new puzzle. There are lots of options for problem-solving activities for dogs, such as a puzzle chew toy that will encourage your dog to exercise its mind to get a treat.
As your dog ages, they must keep up with a regular schedule of physical activity. Regular exercise helps dogs maintain a healthy weight and keeps their joints healthy. However, you may have to adjust the forms of exercise you are providing for your pup. For example, if you notice your dog is having difficulty with the long walks they once loved, try taking your dog for more frequent walks that are shorter.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding people or pets. Always consult with a vet before making medical decisions for your pet.