Did you know you can work out how old your dog is by looking for some simple signs? Every dog owner wants their dog to live a long and healthy life. After all, they are man’s best friend.
By knowing the signs of aging in dogs and when to expect vital life stages, you can help your dog to feel as healthy as possible. If you’re currently using the seven-year rule, you may be surprised to find out it isn’t true for every breed of dog.
Here are a few signs to look for in senior dogs:
How Your Dog Will Age
The seven-year rule dictates that a dog ages seven years for every human year. However, that’s a very general statement that doesn’t always hold true for every breed of dog.
Canine experts agree that dogs age differently according to their size. For example, smaller breeds like Yorkshire terriers or chihuahuas often live longer than larger breeds like Great Danes or Saint Bernards.
Larger breeds tend to live until they’re around ten, with smaller breeds often aging well into their teens. Although this is known to be true, experts still aren’t sure why.
How Old Is My Dog?
There are times when owners may want to find out their dog’s age. For example, you may have rescued your dog without any indication of his age. Taking your dog to a veterinarian is the best way to get an estimation of your dog’s age.
A vet will be able to do blood tests and other examinations that will give an idea of age. However, there are some clues that can give you an indication just by looking.
Take a look at your dog’s teeth. If they are yellowing, it often means your dog is aging and is more likely to be a senior. If the teeth still look white and healthy, your dog could be an adolescent. Similarly, look for gray hair around the muzzle.
Changes As Your Dog Ages
As your dog gets older, you may notice several changes that can help you distinguish what your dog needs. Here are some of the things to look out for.
1. Dietary Changes
Puppies and adolescents require a lot of calories because they use up more energy playing and learning. However, your senior dog will require fewer calories as he or she ages.
Feeding your dog the same amount when he’s ten years old as you did when he was five years old will only lead to him putting on extra weight. An obese dog can lead to an array of health problems that you and your dog don’t want.
If you’re unsure of how much your dog should be eating, you can ask your vet. Your vet may also be able to recommend nutritional joint supplements and special types of dog food that can help your dog age more comfortably.
2. Skin, Coat, and Nails
As your dog ages, you’re likely to notice differences to his coat, nails, and skin. Your dog’s coat may lose the shine it once had it, or it could become thinner. Fur will often gray in places as your dog becomes a senior. This can happen earlier in dogs that tend to become nervous easily.
Your dog’s nails are likely to become more brittle and could easily break. The nails may become longer as your dog moves around less. You may find that you need to trim his nails more often to keep him comfortable.
You should also check your dog’s skin at regular intervals. It’s common for older dogs to develop lumps and bumps. These can be anything from fatty deposits to benign or cancerous tumors.
Arthritis is common in older dogs. Many dogs are able to carry on with their lives quite easily with pain management. However, some dogs suffer terribly with arthritis and may not be able to carry on as they normally would.
Anti-inflammatory pain killers are often effective for dogs with arthritis, and there are many joint supplements for dogs that can help ease muscle pain. There are also orthopedic dog beds that can help your dog avoid stiffness after resting.
4. Dental Changes
Most dog owners know to expect their dog’s teeth to change as they age. Having said that, a dog’s breath should never constantly smell bad. Bad smelling breath could be a strong indication that your dog has gum disease.
If you suspect your dog has gum disease, it’s important to visit a vet as soon as possible. Not only is gum disease unpleasant for your dog, but it can also affect some of your dog’s vital organs.
Maintaining your dog’s dental hygiene is more important than most owners realize. To keep your dog’s mouth healthy, give him dental chews and bones designed to keep his teeth clean.
You can also brush your dog’s teeth at home regularly, and you should schedule teeth cleaning and polishing appointments once a year.
5. Risk of Disease
Dogs become more prone to developing diseases as they get older. For example, the heart, kidney, and liver are less likely to function as well as they did when your dog was a puppy.
If your dog has a pre-existing heart condition, or the breed is known for heart problems, you can visit your vet for regular screenings to ensure you catch any early signs of heart disease.
Taking your dog to the vet for regular check-ups is often the best way to keep your dog healthy and happy in older age. Unfortunately, once liver or kidney disease takes effect they can often be too late to treat.
6. Behavioral Changes
When dogs are puppies, it’s common for them to have erratic behavior and nip their owners as they learn what’s acceptable and what’s not. However, it can come as a shock when a well-trained dog starts to have behavioral problems.
Some dogs may display signs of canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD) which is similar to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s in humans. You may notice that your dog doesn’t want to interact with you as much anymore and begins to soil inside the house again.
Your dog may display signs of anxiety or fear and want to sleep more during the day. He may be pacing your home and appear disoriented. This can be distressing for both your dog and you as an owner.
CCD can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can be linked to other conditions. However, once it is successfully diagnosed by your vet, you can begin to do things that will keep your dog feeling secure and comfortable.
The best way to recognize problems in your aging dog is to be aware of what could happen and keep an eye out for problems. Experts suggest looking for changes in your dog as soon as he turns five years old.
Although this may seem young, it’s often at this age that slight changes may occur. For example, your dog may start to develop some gray fur. Although your dog may still seem spry and excited about playing or going for walks, you may notice he tires more easily or you may notice a distinct change in your dog’s behavior.
It’s at this time that you can start to make changes, like adding supplements to your dog’s food and overall diet.
Caring For Your Aging Dog
There are many things you can do to care for your aging dog. If your dog is diagnosed with arthritis, you may want to think about investing in a dog ramp for your car. It will help your dog get in and out without having to stretch his muscles jumping.
The same can be done in your home, especially if your dog likes to sleep on your sofa. Smaller dogs often have more difficulty climbing as they become older.
Tip: read our article about joint health for dogs to learn how to help your senior dog deal with one of the many health issues of aging dogs.
You can help older dogs stay vibrant and involved in family life by playing puzzle games with them. Mentally challenging games for older dogs are known to help prolong good brain function, possibly prevent cognitive decline, and enrich the dog’s lives.
It’s important for owners to be financially prepared for the costs of having an older dog. An older dog may have to visit the vet more regularly, and any required medication can be a repeated cost for a few years.
Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks
The signs of dog aging may not be recognizable until you know what you’re looking for. Once you have an idea of what could indicate your “already old dog is getting older”, you can make changes accordingly.
Making those changes will ensure your dog gets the best life possible. Here are some dog health articles to help you help make your dog’s life more enjoyable at any age.