During your visits to the vet, they may mention your dog's age or signs of aging that you should be aware of. However, it can be unclear when a dog is considered a senior and how their age is calculated. Our vets in Springfield have provided some valuable insights on canine aging and health concerns in this article.
At what age is a dog considered a senior?
As with humans, dogs are more likely to show signs of illness or health issues such as arthritis as they reach their senior years. You may notice your furry friend slowing down, becoming less playful and possibly more impatient with younger dogs. They may also start to show gray fur around their muzzle, much like aging in humans.
Recognizing when your pet has entered their senior years is crucial to being a responsible pet owner. This is your cue to watch for changes in their habits or behaviors that may require action to ensure your dog remains happy and comfortable in their golden years. It's important to note that no specific age is when a dog transitions from an adult to a senior. This can vary greatly depending on their breed and size, with the average age estimated to be around 7 years old but can range between 5 and 12 years old.
Dog Ages & Breeds: How old is a senior dog?
Dogs typically remain in their puppy stage until they reach 6 months to 1 year of age. After that, they transition into the adult stage, which lasts until they are around 5 or 6. Eventually, they will enter the senior life stage when signs of old age become noticeable. However, some dogs may not show significant 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, we generally expect that the 'senior' life stage is the last quarter to one-third of a dog's expected life span.
Small dogs that weigh less than 20 pounds tend to reach their adult size faster than larger breeds and are usually fully grown between 6 to 8 months of age.
However, after this initial growth period, they tend to age at a slower rate compared to larger dogs. Small-breed dogs usually have a longer lifespan than their larger counterparts, with some living up to 16 years.
This means that a small and healthy dog may not be considered a senior until they are 12 years old. However, there are exceptions to this rule, as some small breeds, such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, have a shorter lifespan and are considered seniors at around 8 years old.
Large dog breeds tend to have shorter lifespans, meaning they enter their golden years more quickly than smaller breeds.
Labradors are a reliable indicator of the lifespan of large breed dogs. On average, they live up to 12 years, which means they become seniors when they reach 8 to 9 years old. However, giant breeds like the Bernese Mountain Dog have much shorter lifespans. 'Berners,' for instance, live up to 6 to 8 years old, which means they become seniors around 4 to 5 years old.
Signs Your Dog is a Senior or Aging
It can be difficult to determine when your dog has reached their senior years, particularly if they are a mixed breed or a rescue with an unknown age. However, there are reliable indicators of aging to look out for during this stage of their life.
As your dog enters their golden years, they 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
If you provide your senior dog with diligent care from both you and your veterinarian, they can remain lively and active for a while longer. It's crucial to prioritize annual veterinary checkups, ensure they receive proper nutrition and exercise suitable for their age and health condition, and provide them with mental stimulation. These factors can greatly impact your dog's quality of life in their golden years.
Geriatric and senior dogs are more susceptible to certain diseases, such as osteoarthritis and cancer. Existing health conditions and general health status can also change rapidly in your dog's aging body, which is why it's important that our Springfield vets see your older dog for a physical exam and checkup at least once a year (perhaps more based on your vet's recommendation) and any recommended tests.
If your veterinarian is able to detect a disease early, they'll have a better chance of effectively managing or curing the condition and helping your furry best friend maintain a good 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, it's still important for them to exercise regularly to maintain their joint health and flexibility. Since each dog is unique, it's best to let your furry friend take the lead when choosing their exercise routine. Trying out different exercises with your dog can help you determine what they enjoy most.
Training and cognitive exercises are also beneficial to keep your dog's mind sharp. Don't hesitate to enroll your senior dog in training classes or engage them with a puzzle feeder game that rewards them with treats as they solve the puzzle.
At Noll Veterinary Hospital, our veterinary team has extensive experience in assessing the health of senior dogs and treating any health conditions or disorders that may arise. We can also provide guidance on aging, exercise, nutrition, and physical health to help your dog live their best life.
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.