Throughout their lives, dogs give endless loyalty, love, and adoration while never expecting anything in return. As they get older, you can give back in multitudes by carefully attending to their changing needs. Dogs greatly benefit from having an owner who knows what to expect from an aging dog, after all. So, it’s best to do all you can to prepare to help them age gracefully.
To help you get started, here’s an in-depth look at all the things you can expect as your dog moves through the golden years.
When Do the Senior Years Start for Dogs?
In a dog’s life, the start of the senior years varies depending on their breed. Small breed dogs reach the senior stage at around age 11, while giant breeds land there at age six. As for medium breed dogs, they’re seniors at around age seven to eight.
Upon reaching the senior years, most dogs start to exhibit early signs of aging. But if you’re not already looking for them, they’re easy to miss. That’s why so many dog owners end up caught off guard when their elderly dogs slow down and start showing their age for real.
Signs of Aging in Dogs
When you know all the most common signs of aging dogs, your dog’s golden years won’t catch you by surprise. You can also start preparing for the changes early, making it easier to properly care for your aging dog. Here’s what to put on your radar as your dog gets older.
Graying around the muzzle is one of the earliest signs of aging. So, it’s no surprise that dog owners often ask, “What age do dogs start greying?” Across all breeds, the gray fur starts to sprinkle into their coat at around age five. Even small breed dogs have a little bit of gray by that age. As time goes on, expect the graying to spread up around their eyes and down the sides of their neck.
Through the golden years, it is very common for dogs to start to lose their vision. You might notice that they have a hard time hunting down their favorite toys. Or they might even bump into furniture and other objects while walking around. In some cases, vision loss in dogs comes with cloudiness in the eyes, which likely points to the development of cataracts.
Just like their beloved humans, dogs also experience nerve degeneration in the ears as a result of aging. As that happens, their ability to hear slowly declines until they end up completely deaf. This gradual change only becomes apparent when your dog no longer responds to the sound of you coming in the house, shaking the treat bag, or calling their name.
Dogs often develop mobility issues as the aging process takes a toll on their joints. The cartilage inside the joint usually begins to wear down first, causing pain and discomfort when moving around. Even more pain might arise if the joint continues to deteriorate. At first, dogs might not move as quickly as normal and often develop a limp. Eventually, they might not want to get up and play due to the severity of the pain.
Many dogs end up unable to fully control their bladder and bowels as the aging process affects their mind and body. Commonly referred to as incontinence, this issue often looks like dogs have reverted back to puppyhood. They may have accidents in the house or even leak urine or feces while walking around. A vet will need to check out your dog to make sure the leakage is not caused by an infection, spinal issue, or other major cause.
After a lifetime of wear and tear on their teeth and gums, it’s very common for senior dogs to struggle with dental disease. They can usually benefit from a thorough teeth cleaning and examination every year to help prevent infection and tooth loss. As dental issues crop up, your dog might have a hard time eating hard kibble, necessitating a food change. Their hard chews and toys might also need to change to prevent damage to their enamel.
Up to 1/3 of all dogs moving through the golden years end up developing canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Much like Alzheimer’s, this disease causes a marked change in how your dog acts and feels. You might notice that your dog seems confused in everyday situations and even forgets their training commands. Other signs include anxiety, activity level changes, and compulsive behaviors, like excessive barking.
Whenever you notice a change in how your dog looks, feels, or acts, it’s best to schedule a visit to the vet. They’ll help ease your worries by making sure that the changes do not link back to an injury or illness. You can then discuss your dog’s unique journey through the golden years and learn how to best support them through this transition and beyond.
Help Your Dog Age Gracefully with Senior Dog Food
Although oft-reserved for humans, the saying, “You are what you eat,” applies to dogs as well. So, it just makes sense to give your dog the best food possible through every life stage.
In the golden years, dog food specifically formulated for seniors gives them all the nutrients needed to keep them feeling their best. The senior formulas may contain extra omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine, for example, to help promote great joint health.
Senior dog food formulas also come with less fat and protein per serving to help keep your elderly dog at an ideal weight. Otherwise, the extra pounds could wreak havoc on their tired joints and open the doors to other serious problems, like high blood pressure and heart disease.
If your dog’s already dealing with medical problems, like dental issues, kidney disease, or cognitive decline, then your vet might want to discuss prescription foods instead. Similarly, senior dogs with allergy symptoms might benefit from switching to hypoallergenic insect-based foods, like Jiminy’s.
Other Ways to Support Your Aging Dog Through the Golden Years
In addition to switching your dog to a high-quality food formulated for seniors, you can provide your support by:
- Going on a short 10- to 15-minute walk each day to keep your senior dog moving
- Switching to softer toys that don’t put as much pressure on their teeth and gums
- Bringing out the puzzles on a regular basis to keep their mind sharp
- Putting rugs down over slippery floors to give your dog steady footing
- Investing in ramps, orthopedic beds, and other senior dog gear
- Watching their weight and keeping them in the ideal range
- Avoiding rearranging the furniture to decrease stress on your dog
Above all else, give your senior dog plenty of patience and attention as they navigate this new phase of life. Keep your vet in the loop, too, by reporting any changes in your dog as you notice them. Twice yearly vet visits can help as well, especially if your dog has any medical or dental conditions in need of monitoring.