Are You Worried About Your Dog Getting Older? Are You Prepared?

I don't like to think about Pinch getting older, but I know I need to be prepared. I asked for advice from Dogster's Dr. Eric Barchas and Annie Phenix.
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My beloved pup, Pinch, turned eight years old recently and is now officially considered a senior. I thought it wouldn’t bother me as much as it has. I mean, I know dogs get older and inevitably pass on, but this is happening to my dog. The one whose happiness I’ve often put before my own, the one who has been my faithful sidekick ever since I became an expat in France almost a decade ago.

His recent birthday combined with more comments about his greying face have me considering my fears about his aging. From constant worrying about what I can do to make him as comfortable as possible as his mind and body begin to slow down, to scary, selfish thoughts of “How could I possibly live without him,” I know I’m not handling his transition to the last phase of life very well.

Pinch and I have traveled all over together. Here we are at a busy train station in Paris just a few months ago.

I think what is most difficult for me to wrap my head around is that besides the white hairs that have sprung up on his face and paws, I haven’t noticed any other signs of aging. I decided to check in with Dogster resident vet Dr. Eric Barchas to see if there were any indicators I might be overlooking. I may be struggling with the idea of Pinch getting older, but being in denial or uninformed about the aging process will not help him.

Dr. Barchas confirmed my suspicion that one of the earliest signs of aging in dogs is often the appearance of white or grey hairs, which is nothing to worry about. If anything, Pinch is looking more distinguished than ever. I may zealously pluck my own grey hairs out, but he can keep his.

I love his underbite smile. His muzzle is almost as white as his teeth now.
I love his underbite smile. His muzzle is almost as white as his teeth now.

What I didn’t know is that a dog’s pupils can also start greying with age. And while dog owners may be quick to assume that their pet is developing cataracts, hazy or dull pupils can also indicate lenticular nuclear sclerosis — a change in the lens due to ocular fibres becoming denser over time — which sets in with age but does not cause significant changes in vision. Lenticular nuclear sclerosis is a normal part of aging, but it’s always a good idea to bring your dog to a vet if you notice any changes in his eyes or vision.

Pinch’s eyes are still as bright as ever, and he’s still just as active as he’s always been. Dr. Barchas says that owners may notice decreased activity and exercise tolerance in aging dogs, but for the moment, my dog has no trouble keeping up with his daily walks and frequent hikes here in the Alps. At his annual checkup a few months ago, the vet even squeezed his meaty little hind legs and told me he has great muscle tone for a small, older dog. And while I know all the exercise Pinch gets is helping to keep him in great shape as he ages, I wouldn’t hesitate to cut back if I noticed he was slowing down and not able to keep up as well.

Pinch’s eyes may be ringed by white hairs now, but his gaze is just as soft and loving as always.

Since Pinch is a mixed breed (Miniature Pinscher and Dachshund), I wondered if there was any truth behind the old adage that mixed breeds are generally healthier and live longer than purebreds. I’ll admit that I was looking for some information to make me feel better, that eight years old for a mutt is hardly a drop in the proverbial bucket of life. A quick online search revealed that a majority of the record holders for longevity in dogs were, in fact, mixed breeds, with many living more than 20 years. Unfortunately, there are way too many variables involved in order to confirm if these dogs lived as long as they did simply because of their genetic makeup. And, according to Dr. Barchas, “individual variations generally dwarf breed-specific issues” when it comes to aging.

But Pinch does have his small stature on his side, as Dr. Barchas explains that larger breeds tend to show their age earlier than smaller ones. Still, it usually comes down to the dog’s particular lifestyle and, just like in humans, some dogs age more gracefully than others.

He may be a senior now, but Pinch’s beloved stuffed raccoon toy is never far away. I don’t know how many times I’ve stepped on its squeaker in the middle of the night and scared myself silly.

I also wondered if there were behavioral signs to look out for as Pinch gets on in years. He’s always been somewhat of an anxious dog with separation anxiety and barking issues, but in the last couple of years, I’ve noticed he has calmed down a bit and has become less reactive in formerly stressful situations. His environment and my interaction with him haven’t changed, so I chalked up his “mellowing out” to advancing age. But I wanted to ask expert Dogster resident trainer Annie Phenix what behavioral changes I should be aware of as Pinch gets older.

“Cognitive dysfunction syndrome is something dog owners of elderly dogs should be on the lookout for,” she says. “Some symptoms include irritability, anxiety, restlessness, inability to follow familiar routines, and more. Although, just because a dog is aging does not mean the mind will start to go.” She goes on to explain that keeping a dog’s mind and body well-exercised and stimulated are crucial to keeping dogs happy as they age. “The worst thing owners can do is believe that all older dogs just want to sleep all day.” I don’t think eight-year-old Pinch would prefer to sleep all day, but I do have some doubts about my 32-year-old husband.

We’ve come a long way, baby!
We’ve come a long way, baby!

I know that Pinch is happy and healthy despite the eight candles on his recent birthday cake. I’ve adapted his food to his new senior status, and he gets yearly checkups and teeth cleaning, as well as lots of attention and exercise (and a prized spot on my pillow at night). I now know what I need to be on the lookout for as he gets on in years and what preventative measures I can take.

But for now, besides the grizzled face, he’s still the same dog I’ve always known. And when and if the day comes that he is no longer the same, I’ll be there for him, too. Despite the heartbreaking and infuriating stories we often hear about people dumping their sick and elderly pets off at shelters, there are still a lot more owners like myself who plan on accompanying our dogs to the very end. If his stubby legs grow sore from arthritis or back pain makes it hard for him to walk, I will be that woman pushing her dog along the sidewalk in a stroller so that he can get some fresh air. If he goes blind or his mind gets fuzzy from dementia, I’ll be there to guide him through any obstacles and comfort him through it all.

As much as I hate to think that he’s getting older and will not be by my side forever, I’m trying to tell myself that when the day comes that he does pass over the Rainbow Bridge, he’ll have lived his life to the fullest, and that I will have given him the best possible life I could. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to push aside the sad, scary thoughts of a life without Pinch and focus on the life that I have with him now. A life where he brings me joy, companionship, and a whole lot of love every single day.

Maybe I should take a cue from Pinch and just stop worrying all the time, instead taking a minute to smell the roses (or in this case, the first daffodils of spring).
Maybe I should take a cue from Pinch and just stop worrying all the time, instead taking a minute to smell the roses (or in this case, the first daffodils of spring).

Let’s hear from you, readers. Do you worry about your aging dog? Or do you focus on the now. Tell us in the comments and show us your senior pups!

Read more about caring for aging dogs on Dogster:

About Crystal Gibson: A child-sized Canadian expat in France who is fluent in French and sarcasm. Owned by a neurotic Doxie mix and a needy Sphynx cat. An aspiring writer and pet photographer with a love of coffee and distaste for French administration, she can be found as @PinchMom over on Twitter.

13 thoughts on “Are You Worried About Your Dog Getting Older? Are You Prepared?”

  1. I have an amazing 12 year old dog name Princess, she’s a schipperke toy poodle. I feed her a home made diet, I have done so since she was four years old, in hopes that it will greatly extend her life. Princess has been an angel sent to me! I have never been closer to anyone in my entire life. Me and Princess have been through so much together, and she is truly man’s best friend. Just like all of you, I am dreading and I get very depressed, and try to push out of my mind, the fact that she may or may not be with me for several years to come. She is my entire world and the love of my life, and I hope more than anything, that she knows in her heart how very much I love her. She has always had a white mustache, but her use to be black haired face and furry body, is now covered with tiny white hairs here and there, along with the cloudy lens in her eyes. I pray she will be with me for many years to come. I hope and Pray I have done the right thing giving Princess a balanced home made diet, and I hope it’s been balanced for her canine self. I know she knows I love her, but I hope she knows she’s my little hero too! ?

  2. My name is Crystal also!!!
    But more important is my second love- of- my life dog, Bolt.
    I never thought I could love a dog this way again after losing my first love of life dog, Lucy.
    Bolt is 11 now.
    I am also becing very depressed about his aging.
    I love him more than any people in my life.
    He is the embodiment of pure joy and happiness.
    He is the sweetest soul on Earth.
    Please God, let him be with me for a lot more time.

  3. Hi there, I don’t know if people are still actively posting on here but my shih-tzu, Rascal, turned 12 back in February. I’ve noticed his face beginning to look older (more white hair and face maybe a bit thinner) but he’s still full of energy. One of my friends on Instagram lost her little dog a couple of days ago at 10 and for whatever reason this hit me like an atomic bomb. I’ve even been crying over it the past couple of days. Like most people, I’m very close with my dog and it’s really hard for me knowing that he is getting older. They’re such loyal friends. Thanks for your article 🙂 I was looking specifically for something like this.

  4. Wilson my German Shepherd just hit the 11 year mark. He has slowed down and his hearing has diminished greatly , he just had a tumor removed from his paw and had his teeth cleaned. He recently hurt his leg (sudden onset, unknown reason) vet says he had high levels of tick born disease and can affect his joints… just started him on antibiotics. Also vet says arthritis is a culprit. Overall he still seems happy . I am having a hard time with the knowledge that he will continue to have issues. Wilson has been a very important part of my life, and I am extremely attached. I know his life span is limited. I am having an extremely hard time with this knowledge and am becoming very depressed. I am fearful of what will happen , how he will decline , and how I will deal with it. Does anyone have any helpful advice on how to Cope with this. Thankyou, Cathy

    1. Hi Cathy,

      This recent article on arthritis might help:
      https://www.dogster.com/dog-health-care/signs-of-arthritis-in-dogs-dog-arthritis-symptoms-early-and-treating-them
      And reading our articles on senior dogs might shed some insight, too: https://www.dogster.com/topic/senior-dogs/

  5. Put our Chiki to sleep Last week,Would like to tell you that you Will know when its time you can feel it how akward it does sound..enjoy every special MOMENT With these special beings..
    Forever in our Heart…, miss you, rest in peace.

  6. In afraid of my dog aging! My dog is eaither 11 or 12, having been by my side my entire life. hes a white poodle mix, so all his fur is already white. Not much change, except more energy to walk at the park. His eyes are a bit more cloudy, but it doesn’t dramaticlly affect his vision. My lil doggo was the Alpha pup, the first born, much bigger than the others. His name is Sebastian

  7. Hi Michael and thanks for your comment! You seem like a really great dad to Ricky.

    Pinch will be 11 next month, and he’s doing very well! He had to have his spleen removed last year because there was a benign tumour that had ruptured, but since his operation, he’s been full of energy and not showing any signs of ageing at all. He’s got more white hairs, of course, but he’s not a little old man just yet! I’ve adapted his diet to his age and activity level, and I make sure that he’s as comfortable as possible in the house (he’s allowed on the bed and the couch!). He’s my baby and I’ll do anything for him in the time that I’m blessed to be in his presence.

    Take care!

    Crystal

  8. I love this article! I adopted Ricky, a boston terrior/chihuahua mix 3 years ago. He was 2-4 at the time I adopted him so I’m on the lookout for signs of aging. He’s always had white hairs on his chin, so I’ll keep a lookout around his eyes and such. His breath is still good, eyes aren’t cloudy. Very energetic. He’s always been mature and calm with little sporadic plaful episodes, I could see overlooking subtle changes in his behavior.

    I agree with caring for the dog until the end. He’s always been there for me, I’ll always be there for him no matter what the future holds.

    Out of curiosity, how is Pinch doing today?

    Best regards,
    Michael

  9. Pingback: As Our Dogs Get Older… – Big Barker Blog

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