It’s tough to watch our beloved dogs get older, but shepherding a dog into their golden years is one of the great privileges of pet parenthood. I didn’t accept that my dogs were “seniors” until they stopped leaping up to greet me at the door when I got home from work. They used to barrel me over in greeting, but these days, they just raise their heads and wag their tails, then get back to snoozing.
Aging is a natural part of the life cycle, and senior dogs need different care than younger ones. You may need new tools, such as a pet ramp to help with mobility issues or a special harness to make walks easier, but you can still enjoy life to the fullest together. Read on to learn what makes a dog “senior,” and how to take care of your best friend in their golden years.
When is a dog considered senior?
We’ve all heard that one year of dog life equals seven human years, but the true numbers aren’t so straightforward. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, regardless of size or breed, puppies age the equivalent of 15 human years in their first year of life. Year two is equivalent to roughly nine human years, as seen in the chart above.
From there, it starts to vary. That final third of a dog’s life is considered their “senior years,” but the specific age depends a lot on size. For example, giant-breed dogs like St. Bernards and Great Danes have a life expectancy of about nine years, so they’re considered “senior” at age six or seven. But a small dog like a Chihuahua or Yorkie has an average lifespan of 15 years, so they’re not really “seniors” until age 10. For more, check out our post about the Dog Years Calculator.
Health issues and injury can cause younger dogs to act more “senior” than older dogs who still romp around like puppies, and a dog’s size, breed, and weight impact how fast they age. Watching your dog’s appearance, activity level, and health will help you determine when they’ve entered their senior years, and adjust care accordingly.
The final third of a dog’s lifespan is their “senior years,” but the specific age depends on life expectancy and size.
Exercise for older dogs
Slow, stiff walking may be one sign that your dog is a senior. But even a creaky old dog still needs exercise! Regular physical activity keeps health and energy up. It can also soothe symptoms of arthritis and other age-related ailments that get worse with a sedentary lifestyle. Aim for one or two 15-30 minute walks per day, depending on your senior dog’s mobility and energy levels.
Exercise is also super-important because it provides mental stimulation! Nobody wants to lie down all day without using their brain, including your dog. Keep their mind sharp by providing a variety of sights, sounds, smells, and textures throughout the day.
Proper nutrition to improve and extend life
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As dogs age, they may develop food sensitivities they didn’t have before. Senior dogs sometimes gain weight as their activity level goes down, or lose weight when their appetite decreases.
Good nutrition is important at every age of your dog’s life, but feeding a proper diet in their senior years is crucial to keeping them healthy and active for as long as possible. Also, maintaining a healthy weight eases stress on your dog’s aging joints.
In general, a minimally-processed food made with high-quality ingredients is best for dogs at any life stage. Senior dogs may need a diet lower in fat and protein than younger pups. You may need to switch to a food designed for senior dogs; one that we like is Wellness Complete Health for Seniors, but there are many good options. Talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s diet, and seek out high quality brands with ingredients suited to your dog’s particular needs. Our dog food exposé is a helpful resource.
Become B.F.F.’s with the vet
Regular check-ups are key to your dog’s health, and become even more important as they age. The American Animal Hospital Association recommends senior dogs see a veterinarian every six months. Regular physical exams and blood tests help establish a baseline of normal health for your pet, so you and the vet will be more likely to notice if something isn’t right.
Age-related diseases can be subtle, with symptoms developing slowly over time. Some common ailments for aging dogs include:
- Kidney problems
- Certain types of cancer
There’s no need to get overly-worried or paranoid about your senior dog’s natural aging process, but early detection means a better prognosis for lots of age-related ailments. So if you notice any changes in your dog’s appetite, energy level, or behavior, don’t hesitate to call the vet.
Lots of love
Mom didn't find a Valentine for me. Shocking ? I am pretty sure my dearest Sam, @old.man.sam would've been my Valentine if I asked, but….Valentine's is about those you love, and my pawrents love me so much! So, they took me to beach this past weekend, and took some nice pictures of us. Mom is always kissing me, so I guess she needed a picture of it. Whatever. I am ok with all the love❤❤❤ #lovemydog #beachdog #frameable #lovemypawrents
You’ve given your dog the best care, and tons of love, throughout their lives. But as pets age, physical touch becomes even more important. Senior dogs may have a tough time reaching itchy spots or grooming themselves, so you can help them out. And therapeutic massage is great for dogs with joint pain. Even if your senior dog doesn’t have achy joints, who doesn’t love a massage?
Physical contact strengthens the bond between you and your senior pet, and lets you maximize the time you have together. It’s important to monitor your old dog’s food, exercise, and vet visits. But most of all, show them lots of love. After all, they’ve devoted their entire lifetime to you!
Preview image via flickr/jdehaan