Your veterinarian may discuss your dog's age or signs of aging to watch for. However, it is important to understand when a dog is considered a senior and how to calculate their age. In this post, our vets in Zeeland have shared some valuable insights on canine aging and their health.
At what age is a dog considered a senior?
As dogs age, they can experience various health conditions, such as arthritis, and it's important not to overlook any signs of illness. Your furry friend may start to slow down, play less, and become more impatient with younger dogs. You may also notice gray hair around their muzzle.
These symptoms are similar to those experienced by humans as they age. As a pet parent, it's crucial to recognize when your dog has entered their senior years and be vigilant for changes in their habits or behaviors that may require attention to keep them happy and comfortable in their golden years.
It's worth noting that there is no definitive age at which a dog becomes a senior, as this can vary depending on breed and size. While many people consider a dog to be a senior at around 7 years old, the age range can actually be between 5 and 12.
Dog Ages & Breeds: How old is a senior dog?
Dogs are considered puppies from birth until they reach around 6 months to a year old. After that, they become adult dogs, which lasts until they are around 5 or 6 years old. Signs of old age usually start to show after this stage, marking the beginning of their senior life. However, some dogs may not show significant signs of aging until they reach 12 years old.
While there may be some anomalies or varying data when the question, "What age is a dog a senior?" is asked. That said, in general, we expect that the 'senior' life stage is the last quarter to one-third of a dog's expected life span.
Dogs smaller than about 20 pounds reach their adult age more quickly than larger breeds since they are often fully grown by 6 to 8 months old. However, they age more slowly after this.
A small-breed dog's lifespan is typically longer than a large breed dog's - up to about 16 years. So, a small, healthy dog might not be considered a senior until they are 12 years old.
That said, there are always exceptions to the rule, and that's the case here. Some small breeds, including Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, have a shorter lifespan and are considered senior at about 8 years old.
It's a well-known fact that larger dog breeds generally have shorter lifespans than smaller breeds. For instance, Labradors are a typical example of a large breed dog, with an average lifespan of 12 years. This means that they would be considered seniors at around 8 to 9 years old.
However, giant breeds like the Bernese Mountain Dog have even shorter lifespans. Berners, for instance, typically live to be around 6 to 8 years old, which means they would be considered seniors at just 4 to 5 years old.
Signs Your Dog is a Senior or Aging
For various reasons, it can be difficult to determine if your dog is a senior when they enter the final phase of their expected lifespan. For instance, it can be challenging to estimate the lifespan of a mixed breed dog, and if you've adopted a rescue, their exact age may be unknown. However, there are reliable indicators of aging to observe as your dog enters their senior years. During their golden years, your senior dog may exhibit the following signs:
- Suffer from stiffness in their limbs, particularly in the mornings (this sign of arthritis should be flagged with your vet)
- Grow more impatient, especially with younger, more energetic dogs
- Go gray around the muzzle
- Slow down in general
You also may see signs of canine cognitive dysfunction. In senior dogs, signs of cognitive dysfunction include interrupted sleep, loss of smell, unusual night-time or evening activity, and anxiety.
Caring for Senior Dogs
Provided they receive diligent care from you, and your vet, your senior dog may stay spritely and active for some time to come. The most important elements to keep in mind are annual veterinary care, proper nutrition and exercise appropriate to their age and health status, and mental stimulation.
As dogs grow older, they become more vulnerable to certain illnesses such as cancer and osteoarthritis. Additionally, the general health status and pre-existing conditions of your furry friend may change rapidly with age.
That's why it's crucial for our Zeeland vets to examine and check up on your senior dog at least once a year (or more based on your vet's advice) and perform any recommended tests.
Early detection of any diseases can increase the chances of managing or curing the condition and, ultimately, help maintain your dog's quality of life.
Obesity can become a problem in dogs once they start to slow down, as it can exacerbate arthritis pain and shorten the length and quality of your dog's life. If you are unsure about your dog's ideal weight and diet, ask your veterinarian for their recommendations.
Physical & Mental Exercise
Even though senior dogs may slow down, keeping them active is important to maintain healthy joints and limber bodies. Each dog is unique, so it's best to let your pup choose their exercise routine. You can test out various exercises to see what your dog prefers.
In addition to physical exercise, training, and cognitive activities can help keep your dog's mind sharp. Older dogs are capable of learning new things, so consider attending training classes or introducing a puzzle feeder to reward your dog with food as they figure out how to get the kibble.
At Zeeland Veterinary Service, our vets are knowledgeable in assessing the health of senior dogs and treating any health conditions, disorders, or diseases that may arise. We also offer guidance on aging, exercise, nutrition, and physical health concerns.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.