Unless you're adopting a senior pet straight from a shelter - which is a great idea by the way - the majority of us have had our furry friends from a small age. And while those young years felt like a lot of work, you may need to provide a similar level of care for your pet once they start to reach their golden years.
But when do our dogs officially hit the seniority scale? And when they do, what changes should we make to help them live as comfortably as possible?
The Age of a Senior Dog
Most experts agree that senior dogs are divided based on their breed size. Dogs that are smaller than 20 pounds typically live longer than their heavier brethren, at least when they’re living a generally healthy lifestyle. These small dogs can live up to about 16+ years old and they’re usually not considered a “senior dog” until about 11 or 12 years old.
Larger dogs – like Great Danes, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers – have a bit of a shorter lifespan and enter their senior years earlier. Medium to large dogs like Labradors commonly live to be about 12+ years old. They enter senior years around 8 or 9 years old. An even larger dog like a Newfoundland has a slightly smaller lifespan of 8 to 10 years and would enter their senior years around 7 years old.
It’s important to note that each pet is different. While these scales are good for a general understanding of where your dog is on their projected senior scale, diet and exercise can tremendously affect how soon your dog may need to be reevaluated as a senior pet.
How to Tell if Your Dog is a Senior Pet
Having an age map is a great way to quickly know if changes in your pet’s behavior may be due to natural aging, but it’s good to keep an eye out for other indicators too. Watch out for these signs of aging as your dog gets closer to their senior years:
- A noticeable increase or decrease in appetite
- Dental issues, increasingly smelly breath
- Difficulty getting up
- Stiffness or limping
- Lumps and bumps (most of the time they’re just fatty lumps but always good to check them out with your veterinarian in an annual visit)
- Get disorientated or confused more often.
- Increased tiredness
These are only a few examples but it’s important to be aware of the changes in your dog’s behavior as they near their seniority scale. Just like humans, dogs tend to have growing symptoms that don’t seriously interfere with daily activity and can quickly develop into a more serious health issue. Keep note of any changes you see in your dog’s activities and make sure to bring them up to your veterinarian if you see symptoms worsening.
How to Care for a Senior Dog
Now that we’ve identified what qualifies a dog as a senior pet, how does this change how you care for them?
For starters, being labeled a senior pet shouldn’t detract from your dog’s current lifestyle at all. Whether they are a lap dog who loves naps or an active dog who loves to be outdoors, you can let them live their best life while taking care of their senior needs. Here are a few areas to keep in mind:
A senior dog’s diet will likely change as their specific needs arise and - as tough as it is for any true advertising company to admit - one thing may not solve all of their problems. If your dog is having digestion issues or you’re afraid they’re not getting enough nutrition, there are treats and foods tailored to help keep their gut healthy. If they are having hip or other joint issues, there are supplements that can help ease those pains. It’s always good to get specific suggestions from your dog’s vet on the supplements that would best help them.
You’ll read everywhere that exercise is as important for dogs as it is for humans. Not only is it good for physical health but also for mental and emotional health. Moving around helps their bodies stay young and gives them independence. A lot of toys are created with senior pets in mind. And making the world a little more comfortable with soft orthopedic beds or more accessible with products like pet ramps help to make movement a little easier.
Senior dogs are more prone to diseases so it’s important to keep a regular check-up schedule with your vet based on your specific senior dog needs. If you’re worried about costs there are usually pet insurance offers that could help mitigate expenses, especially if you find yourself going to the vet for a continuous issue. But keeping a record of your dog's health will go a long way to help prevent future issues that could majorly detract from their quality of life.
While taking care of your senior pet may take a little getting used to, your furry friend will certainly thank you for making these golden years comfortable and fun.