While knowing when your dog is classed as a senior may seem like trivial information, it is important, as it will affect a variety of things including their lifestyle and diet. Senior dogs need a little extra support from us and should not be treated the same as their younger, more robust peers.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to classifying a dog as a senior and there are several factors which need to be taken into account including:
While an eight-year-old Great Dane is considered long in the tooth, this is simply middle-aged for a tiny Yorkshire Terrier. Larger dogs typically do not live as long and they age at a faster rate than their smaller relatives.
Each breed has its own average lifespan, determined by its genetics. Pugs, for example, are not particularly long-lived despite their small size and will typically live to 11 or 12 years. The Chihuahua, on the other hand, usually lives well into its teens. Thus, the Pug will age quicker and become a senior before a Chihuahua.
It is worth keeping in mind that a dog who lazes about all day on the sofa is likely to age more slowly than a similar dog who works for their living, such as on a farm. A ‘harsh’ lifestyle whereby the dog is putting stress on their body will result in more wear and tear and potentially quicker aging.
As a quick rule of thumb, we can consider dogs ‘senior’ at the following ages:
- 5-8 years of age for very large / giant dogs
- 7-10 years of age for medium-sized dogs
- 9-12 years of age for small dogs
As these guidelines vary considerably between individuals, it is worth asking your vet their opinion on whether your dog is a senior or not.
Signs that your dog is becoming a senior
Entering the senior years can bring some challenges and many aspects of a dog’s mind and body can be affected. Potential signs to watch out for in our seniors will include:
- Declining Senses. Dogs are less able to see, hear and smell and these senses get progressively worse over time.
- Nuclear sclerosis. This is when the dog develops a blue-tinge to the eyes. Affected dogs can still see and this normal old age process is not to be confused with cataracts which cause blindness.
- Grey fur. This is more noticeable in some, depending on their original fur colour and coat type.
- Irritability. This is not necessarily normal and can indicate an underlying issue such as joint or dental disease, so should be investigated if the dog is normally mellow.
- Sleeping more. As well as spending more time in the land of nod, your older dog will need more rest and downtime during the day.
- Signs of mental decline. Some dogs experience cognitive disease as they age and may become aloof, bark for no reason, stare into space etc. Talk to your vet if you feel your dog is showing any symptoms of ‘doggy dementia’.
So, what do you need to do for your senior dog?
- Remember, your dog won’t be able to let you know when they are feeling tired or poorly and it is up to you to be their advocate. Be sure to schedule regular check-ups for them and to keep an eye on their day to day activity.
- It is important to feed your senior dog an appropriate diet and the change on to this new food should be made gradually to avoid stomach upset.
- Many will benefit from changes around the home such as a padded bed, a heated mattress in the winter, ramps to help them into the boot etc.
- Though they may try to convince you otherwise, they are not as able to have as much exercise as before and will need their routines altered as they naturally slow down.
- Replace long walks and swims with plenty of fun puzzles and brain training, to keep their mind engaged.
Give your old boy or girl lots of love! While they may not be as playful or demanding as they once were, they will still appreciate a good cuddle.