From the puppy years to being a grown adult, your cute companion has become an integral part of the family. A fact of life is aging, and dogs are no exception. Learning about what it means to be a senior dog can help you care for your best friend better.
When is my dog a senior?
Veterinarian Jeremy Grossbard says, “On average, dogs are considered senior at seven years old -– for all dogs, across the board.” This is a good guideline for approaching your dog’s age, but being seven years old doesn’t automatically put your dog into a new category.
Dr. Grossbard cautions against the stigma sometimes associated with being senior. “’Senior’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘geriatric.’ It does not mean your animal is dying.” He compares it to being 50 to 55 years old as a human. “It’s just about that age when our bodies start to change. ‘Senior’ isn’t always the best word to use.”
The biggest reason for recognizing this life transition is to ensure regular, thorough health exams and baseline bloodwork. “We may catch an early problem before it develops into something more serious and it gives us something to compare to in the future,” he says.
The oft-heard buzzwords “senior at seven” aren’t a hard-and-fast rule. Multiple factors affect how dogs age, and each dog is different. These four basic categories can help you understand your dog’s point in life.
The biggest factor in aging is a dog’s breed. Different breeds age at different rates. Large dogs tend to age more quickly than small dogs. For example, giant breeds like a Great Dane may be considered senior at 5 or 6, while a toy breed like a Chihuahua won’t really be considered senior until even 9 or 10. “It’s more of a mindset,” Dr. Grossbard explains.
2. Diet and Exercise
Healthy lifestyle choices play a role as well. Heavier-set animals have a greater disposition to heart disease, diabetes, and increased joint pressure, which can lead to the development of arthritis. These diseases can shorten your pet’s life.
Senior wellness issues like obesity are important to treat. Dr. Grossbard typically recommends a strict dry food diet with treats and snacks in moderation. He says, “In general, the more exercise, the better,” and advises going to the vet to check out weight issues. You can help your pet stay fit with a walking routine and regular playtime. This also keeps your bond strong.
3. Family History
Family genetics are another thing to consider. If you bought your dog from a breeder, you may be able to get some information about the parents’, grandparents’, or previous offspring’s medical history. If available, this can help pinpoint preventative measures or diagnostic testing your vet may recommend.
4. Pet Stress
A previously unhealthy lifestyle or past abuse of adopted dogs is another thing to consider. Stressful life situations can accelerate aging. Another example of a stressful life event is having a family member go to college, or for a couple to break up. Remember that big changes can be extremely taxing for your dog, especially if part of the “pack” is leaving. It’s important to recognize your dog’s reactions to stress and work to minimize unnecessary anxiety.
Still Your Best Friend
No matter your dog’s age, spending time together is very important. Senior pets still need love and attention, even if they are living a more sedentary lifestyle.