Unlike people, a dog’s age can’t be determined by the wrinkles of its skin or appearance of gray in its fur. So how do you know when your dog has become an old dog? Most of us are familiar with the analogy that one dog year is equal to seven human years.
This method of determining dog age is based on the idea that when you multiply the average lifespan of dogs (about 11.5 years) times seven, you get 80.5, a number that is very close to the average lifespan of humans (79 years). The problem is that dogs age differently according to their breed and size and they don’t age the same during every phase of their life.
Different breeds of dogs have different lifespans, influencing at what age they become old. In general, large breeds become seniors earlier and they have a shorter lifespan than small breeds. A German shepherd or golden retriever is considered an old dog at the age of five while Chihuahuas or pugs aren’t considered old until they are ten years old.
There are also variations between mixed breed dogs and purebreds. Some breeds are prone to genetic health conditions while mixed breeds may “breed out” these tendencies resulting in those with a greater genetic diversity having a longer and healthier lifespan.
Many of the ailments and diseases that affect older pets are the same as those experienced by humans. Dogs may have diabetes, liver disease, heart disease, or osteoarthritis. Some of these may be missed by a routine exam by the veterinarian but the pet owner may recognize changes in behavior that will help to identify the problem.
For example, some dog breeds are prone to problems that may cause a limit in physical activity, stiffness when moving, or an inability or unwillingness to climb stairs.
Changes in appetite and drinking habits may be normal signs of aging or of a more serious condition. Dental problems are common in older dogs that may make it painful for them to chew. There may also be digestive problems that make the dog skip meals.
Owners should take notice of how much their dog is eating and drinking and if there is more or less frequency in bowel movements and urination.
A dog’s sleeping patterns or differences in interactions between the dog and its surroundings may be symptoms of dementia. Note whether the dog seems to be confused by his surroundings or has an inability to find his way around familiar territory.
Obesity is another issue that can influence the aging process and reduce the dog’s quality of life. As dogs get older, their nutritional needs change along with the need for fewer calories as their level of energy also declines. Most dogs become a lot less active and need fewer calories to supply their energy.
Finally, owners should be on the lookout for lumps or bumps and wounds that don’t heal anywhere on the dog’s body. Better care of pets is leading to greater longevity and a greater incidence of cancer. Some breeds are more prone to cancer and, just as in humans, early diagnosis is critical for giving pets effective treatment.
Pet owners need to be more stringent about taking care of older pets. They may need more frequent trips to the vet, ongoing medications, and tests to determine when their eyes, ears, or joints are deteriorating. The availability of treatments for dogs can make the difference in the quality of life dogs enjoy during their old age or how long their senior years last.
You wouldn’t want a human member of your family to suffer needlessly. The canine members also deserve to get the best treatment available to them.
Another reason that you should know when your dog is considered old is that there are different types of dog food available that will provide senior dogs with the nutrition that is right for their changing dietary needs.
Some of these foods have ingredients that help to improve cognitive thought so that dogs are healthier, happier, and more like the puppy that they were when you first brought them home.