What makes a dog “senior”? How will you know what to expect as they grow older? We answer these questions and more about your senior dog.
When it comes to our canine companions, we love them at all ages. Whether we’re celebrating the antics of a young puppy or marveling at the new tricks our old dog can master. However, there are some special needs that we need to consider as our pets grow older.
Here we’ll find out exactly it means for a dog to be a senior, what to cover with your vet as your dog grows older (including senior pet food) and ways to ensure your aging dog is happy at home.
What makes a dog senior?
When it comes to humans, people are considered senior citizens when they are anywhere from 55 to 65 years of age. For dogs, it’s similarly difficult to declare one age as the senior designation across the board. Larger dogs typically have shorter lifespans, so a senior mastiff would likely be much older than a senior terrier.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, a 7-10 year old dog is considered senior, depending on their size. In the chart below, they approximate dog years to human years as a gauge for seniority.
If you adopted your dog and are unsure how old they are, your vet can help you determine their age. While you’re there, you can also talk with them about health issues and other things that will change as your dog grows older.
What to prepare for as your dog grows older
There are many ways to help you and your dog prepare for getting older. One of the most important things to be ready for are the health and behavioral changes your dog may experience.
Here are some items about aging that you should discuss with your dog’s vet:
- Daily Exercise - if you notice difficultly in regular walks, consult your vet
- Vaccines - There can be new vaccine requirements for older dogs
- Changes in diet - Make sure your dog is still getting the right nutrients
- Weight gain - Extra weight can make existing health problems worse for an older dog
- Mental health - If you notice extreme changes in your dog’s behavior, consult your vet
“Old age is not a disease,” says Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinarian who has specialized in treating older animals throughout her career. “If you notice a change in your dog’s health or behavior, don’t just assume it’s related to aging and that nothing can be done to help.”
What about senior dog food?
A study on the opinions of nutritional requirements for senior dogs found that while people believe that senior dogs have different dietary needs, they weren’t able to choose the right food based on information available to them.
Veterinary behaviorist Nicholas Dodman says, "While there are some laws that govern what comprises a puppy food and while there are recommendations and regulations concerning what goes in dog food, there's no real legal requirement or definition of what constitutes a 'senior' dog food. So they're out there — but the composition is highly variable."
It’s best to check with your vet about the right food for your dog’s age, and other factors.
Keeping your senior dog happy at home
Maintaining mobility through regular exercise is also important for a senior dog. While some older dogs might still be up for long hikes, even simple walks around the block can do the trick. If your dog has already lost some mobility, you might consider shorter walks, or even moving their bed to a first floor location.
According to Veterinary behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, one of the basic needs of older dogs is temperature regulation. "They're really like older people," he explains. "Older people are often the ones who are the victims of these freezing bouts or extremes of heat. They're less able to thermoregulate.”
Find the right balance of exercise, food, walks, love, and a warm blanket in the winter and your pooch will retire in luxury.