These days, many dogs can live up to 17 to 20 years old, although the average dog lives about 13 years.
Generally speaking, large dogs have shorter lifespans than smaller dogs. Large dogs such as the Great Danes, German Shepherds, St. Bernards are considered senior at 6 to 9 years of age and old at 10 to 12.
Medium dogs are considered senior at 9 to 10 years of age and old at 12 to 14.
Toy breeds are considered senior at 9 to 13 years of age and old at 14 to 16 years.
How fast or slow a dog ages depends on the care the dog has received throughout his life. Well-cared-for dogs suffer fewer ailments when they grow older.
On the other hand, dogs whose health and wellbeing have been neglected (e.g. those on a low-quality diet, those whose injury or sickness has not been attended to) tend to age faster.
Health Checkup – A Must for Aging Dog Care
While every dog should have an annual health checkup, it is even more important for aging dogs to undergo regular annual physical examination.
For medium and small dogs, they should have a complete veterinary examination at least once a year upon reaching 7 years of age.
For large breed dogs, the age for annual exams is 5. If the health of the dog is problematic, he should be seen by a veterinarian more often.
An annual physical checkup for aging dogs should include:
- A physical exmination
- Blood tests (Complete blood count and blood chemistries)
- Check for parasites
- Chest X-ray
- Liver and kidney function tests
- Thyroid levels
In addition to the above, an aging dog should receive dental care and examination, preferably semi-annually or more frequently as needed.
When To See a Vet
If your aging dog shows any of the following signs and symptoms, you should take him to the veterinarian without delay:
- A growth or lump anywhere on the body
- Bloody or purulent discharge from a body opening
- Appetite and/or weight loss
- Weakness or exercise intolerance
- Coughing, especially at night
- Panting or labored breathing, especially even when resting
- Increased thirst and/or frequency of urination
- A change in bowel function (constipation or diarrhea)
- Rapid pulse or breathing rate
Diet – An Important Aspect of Aging Dog Care
Older dogs have slower metabolic rate, are less active, and therefore require up to 30% fewer calories than do younger dogs.
To prevent obesity in aging dogs, a reduced-calorie diet is necessary. Preventing obesity is perhaps the single most important thing you can do to prolong the life of an older dog.
How much food to give to an individual older dog depends on his health, metabolism, and activity level. Generally speaking, an older dog with a normal weight range (not too fat, not too thin) needs about 25 to 30 kcals per pound of body weight per day.
If your older dog’s diet is not lower in calories, feeding the same amount may result in weight gain! Switch over to a senior reduced-calorie diet in order to prevent obesity.
The senior diet should contain natural, nutritive, and high-quality ingredients, fortified with additional antioxidants and vitamins (in particular, B vitamins). B vitamins are more easily lost in the urine of older dogs with reduced kidney function.
Here are just a couple of excellent natural senior dog foods:
You should however consult your veterinarian first before changing your dog’s diet. Also, bear in mind that older dogs are less tolerant of changes in diet, so when changes are necessary, make them gradually over a period of at least one week.
Supplements for Aging Dogs
In addition to a health diet, aging dogs may have increased needs for certain supplements, such as antioxidants and vitamins. Depending on the individual dog, supplements for joints, the heart, or cognitive function may also become necessary.
Exercise for Aging Dogs
Senior dogs need to move regularly to maintain joint mobility and muscle tone. “Use it or lose it” is so true for muscle tone and mobility in older dogs! Try to maintain a regular daily exercise schedule with your aging dog.
Walking is good, and if your dog has joint problems such as arthritis, walking in water is a good therapy. It’s common sense but don’t try to engage senior dogs in sports that require sudden “braking” and jumping, such as catching a ball mid-air or playing frisbee. Braking and jumping put a lot of stress on the aging squeaky joints.
Not only does the body need exercising, so does the mind! Teach your old dog some new tricks. Old dogs can and do learn new tricks if you use positive reinforcement, such as treats and a lot of praises.
Also try using some interactive toys to engage your aging dog so his brain can stay active and healthy.
When your dog is getting older, the most important thing is to observe his day-to-day behavior and eating/drinking habits closely. Any sudden change in these habits and behavior should be considered red flags and you should take the dog to the vet for a checkup.
Regular half-yearly checkups ensure that the health of the dog is closely monitored.
It is important to provide your dog with a balanced high-quality diet and supplements. It is equally important to exercise your aging dog, both physically and mentally, every day.