Senior Dogs: Helping Your Buddy Age Gracefully
Your buddy's senior dog years are a big step. But when even is a dog considered a senior? And how can you best care for them in their golden years? Turns out actively monitoring their health is one of the best ways.
Much like humans, dogs go through a number of life stages – including growing older. So one of the most important transitions in your buddy’s life is when they become a senior dog. But you might’ve wondered: when is a dog considered a senior? And how can you keep an eye out for health issues that accompany aging?
In this post, we’re going to cover some of the signs your dog is getting older, at what age is a dog considered senior, common health-related issues, and how you can take an active role in your senior dogs’ health. So you can help your buddy live their best life and build some wonderful memories together – especially as they near their golden years.
Table of contents
- At what age is a dog considered a senior?
- Signs your dog is getting older
- What other health conditions are senior dogs at risk for?
- How to care for your senior dog’s health
- Help your buddy age gracefully – and build memories for a lifetime
At what age is a dog considered a senior?
Dogs tend to have shorter lifespans than us humans – so they age quicker as well. What’s more, depending on your dog’s size and breed, they might reach their senior years at different ages.1 For example, if you have both a Newfoundland and a Maltese at home, your Newfie is more likely to become a grand-paw earlier. (While your Maltese is still a young whippersnapper in comparison.)
Here’s a quick table summarizing the different ages and stages when different dog breeds reach their senior years:
|Size||Senior dog years|
|Small breeds||10-11 years|
|Medium-sized breeds||~10 years|
|Large breeds||8 years|
|Giant breeds||7 years|
You might’ve heard of the common myth that you just need to multiply your dog’s age by 7 to get their age in human years. But this is a pretty inaccurate estimate. Because dogs tend to age differently depending on their size, their exact age can vary across breeds. So here’s a chart that can help you figure out your dog’s actual age a little better:
Why do bigger dogs tend to age faster than smaller ones? Scientists aren’t entirely sure. One reason might be that because bigger dogs grow faster, they might be more likely to develop the abnormal cell growth associated with cancer.2 And because they age faster, they’re also more vulnerable to age-related illnesses.
Even among bigger dogs, breed plays a role. Your buddy might be more vulnerable to age-related health problems if they’re a brachycephalic breed, like a Pug or a Bulldog.3
These are general guidelines and reflect the average of when most dogs get classified as seniors. Your buddy might age differently – so it helps to stay in touch with your vet to keep an eye out for the signs they’re getting older.
Signs your dog is getting older
It can be easy to miss the signs that your buddy’s reaching senior dog status. But by recognizing them, you can help you give them the best care they need. Here are a couple.
A drop in your dog’s activity levels
One of the first signs your dog is getting older is if they seem generally more lethargic than usual. They might be more reluctant to go for their regular walks, tire more easily, no longer jump on the couch like before, or just seem out of it during playtime.
Signs to watch out for
- Movements. You may notice your dog walking more stiff than usual, shifting their weight from limb to limb, limping, or struggling to get up and lie down easily. Or your dog might “lean” to their stronger side more often than the other.
- Appearance. At times, you might even notice your dog’s coat looking more matted and unkempt than before. (Because it’s difficult for them to reach these hard-to-groom spots if they’re struggling with arthritis or a similar health condition.)
- Avoidance. Your dog might also avoid certain surfaces, like those that seem slippery. They might also seem reluctant to walk up and down staircases.
- Posture. Your dog might also seem more “drooped”, posture-wise. They might not lift their heads to eat a treat or when you pet them. Or they might be more likely to lie down while eating or drinking.
Many of these signs and symptoms are also those of chronic pain. Plus, your dog might not be likely to draw attention to it. Making it easy to miss out on these signs until it’s too late.
Why it makes sense to track your senior dog’s activity levels
This is why vets recommend actively tracking your dog’s daily movement. (Especially how long they’re able to keep up with you during walks.)
If you notice a big change (like a drop in your dog’s energy and activity levels), it could be a sign of pain, heart disease, or other illness.4 It might also signal that your dog is struggling with joint and mobility issues, like arthritis.
With regular activity tracking, you can catch such health issues early on. It’s how Tractive pet parents around the world are caring for their senior dogs’ health.
With just a glance at your dog’s Wellness profile, you can monitor their regular level of activity – and more easily spot a change if you notice a drop. So you can take action immediately – and get your buddy the help they need.
“It can be easy to miss out on changes in your dog’s or cat’s regular activity – or just if they’re on the move more or less than usual. So we’ve set up Activity Degradation alerts for when your pet’s active minutes drop significantly. They can help you intervene in a situation where your pet might be struggling with an infection or even just pain.”– Sebastian Raab, Product Manager at Tractive & occasional pet-sitter
A change in your dog’s appetite
A drop in appetite might be another sign your dog’s reaching their senior years. Senior dogs might pick at their meals or just seem less enthusiastic around mealtimes. Some of the reasons could include dental problems – including weakening teeth – or other underlying health issues, including liver disease.
It’s why vets recommend regular teeth brushing as part of your dog’s dental care routine. If you’re noticing your buddy eating less, take a look at their teeth. Gently lift up the flap of their lips and check for the color of their gums. They should ideally be on the pink and moist side. If pale and/or sticky, your dog might be suffering some tooth pains.
We cover a few other practical tips and tricks to get you started with a simple routine in our post on dog dental care. But if you’re observing your dog eating less, any tooth trouble, or even changes in your dog’s weight as a result – get in touch with your vet immediately.
A drop in your dog’s responsiveness to you
Senior dogs are vulnerable to sensory and cognitive decline, including vision and hearing loss. They might also experience a drop in their mental acuity or responsiveness around these years. You might notice this if your dog seems less responsive – or takes longer to respond when you call their name. They might also stare vacantly or seem to “forget” their house training.5
In fact, blindness is one of the most common chronic health conditions that senior dogs may experience.6 Similarly, as their ears age, they might also experience deafness or a gradual loss of hearing. You’ll observe this if your dog wanders off past a point without hearing you call for them. Or seems to bump into things around the house more often than usual.
Senior dogs are also vulnerable to dementia. But it’s easy to miss out on these signs as you think your dog is simply growing “old”. Here are a couple to keep an eye out for.
A change in your dog’s sleep habits
Like we’ve covered, older dogs are also vulnerable to cognitive decline, with conditions like cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS).7 You might see this turn up as changes in your dog’s behavior, like increased anxiety, confusion, or restlessness. But one of the key ways to pick up on changes to your senior dog’s mental state is their sleep.
Senior dogs experiencing cognitive decline might wake up more often at night – or generally experience less quality sleep. You might find them vocalizing more often at night or pacing around restlessly. Oftentimes, cognitive decline might be accompanied by other painful chronic health conditions which can also disrupt your dog’s sleep. And much like activity, tracking their quality of sleep can be difficult if you’re relying solely on your memory.
It’s why Tractive’s Wellness Monitoring features come with Sleep Alerts. Now, when there’s a drop in your dog’s quality of sleep, you’ll get an immediate notification. When combined with a drop in their activity level, this can indicate that your dog might be struggling with a physical and/or mental condition. So once you’ve picked up on a change in your dog’s sleep levels, you can get them to a vet immediately:
What other health conditions are senior dogs at risk for?
Many of the signs and symptoms we’ve just covered might reflect chronic health conditions that senior dogs are at risk for. Here are a couple of them – and how they might show up:
With time and age, your dog’s kidneys might be less able to properly filter out waste from their bloodstream.8 So you might observe your dog urinating more frequently. Or having accidents around the house because they’re less able to control their bladder. Dogs are also vulnerable to different cancers of their urinary systems, including bladder cancer.9
Your dog’s thyroid gland plays a role in their energy levels throughout the day.10 So with age, it might function slower and less effectively than before. This might cause your dog’s appetite and energy levels to plummet – while also increasing their risk of weight gain.
Much like older humans, senior dogs are also vulnerable to cardiovascular problems.11 And unfortunately, there really isn’t a single cause for it. Aging, nutrition, and their genetic history can all play a role in senior dogs developing heart disease. You might observe its signs if your dog tires more easily than usual when out on a walk. Or shows difficulties breathing. Certain dog breeds, like Boxers, might even be more vulnerable to disordered breathing like sleep apnea. Which can worsen any cardiovascular problems over time.
If you’re noticing your dog eating less at mealtimes, watch out. Liver disease tends to show up in senior dogs in different ways. Keep an eye out for:
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive urination and thirst
- Weight loss
If you’re noticing one or more of these signs in your senior dog, get in touch with your vet immediately.
Much like humans, dogs are also vulnerable to developing different types of cancers. If your dog is aged 10 years or older, they might be at a higher risk of developing them. Here are a couple of the most common types of canine cancers:
- Melanomas, which can reflect a type of skin cancer. They’re most common among dogs with darker skin.
- Testicular cancer, which is most common among dogs who haven’t been neutered yet.
- Squamous cell carcinomas, which are most commonly found in your dog’s mouth and toes.
- Mammary carcinoma, which is highest among non-spayed dogs.
- Brain tumors, which might turn up as seizures.
- Osteosarcoma, which is the most common type of bone cancer in dogs. It might show up as limping, lameness, or difficulties staying mobile.
While these might seem scary, many of these conditions are preventable. By actively taking a role in your senior dog’s health, you can help them live a long, happy life by your side.
How to care for your senior dog’s health
As your dog reaches their senior years, here are some practical steps you can take to care for them.
Actively monitor your dog’s sleep & activity levels
A change in your senior dog’s exercise and quality of sleep are the two main indicators something might be wrong. But with long-term activity and sleep data at hand, you can better identify these changes before your buddy’s condition worsens over time.
Here’s a story from one of Tractive’s pet parents who caught on to a change in her dog’s regular behaviors – and avoided a medical emergency:
“When I looked at Ruby’s Wellness profile, the data showed that her activity level was low and that she hadn’t slept well. I was concerned and watched her carefully. Early the next morning, she had blood in her urine and was lethargic. We visited the emergency veterinarian, and Ruby was diagnosed with a UTI.
She received antibiotics and pain medication and is feeling much better. Her tracker data made me aware that she was not acting normally and that something could be wrong with her.
I love her tracker, and I will always have one for any dog I ever own.“– Katie J, Delaware
Stay on top of your dog’s wellbeing
See how they’re doing at a glance with Wellness Score. Set goals. Compare with dogs like yours. Monitor sleep. Detect issues and keep them healthy.
Teach your old dog new tricks
Contrary to popular belief, it’s 100% possible to keep your dog mentally active through training them with new commands – no matter how old they are. If you start simple and work your way up gradually, you’ll both increase your quality time together while also keeping your dog engaged and happy.
Clicker training, for example, works great with dogs of all ages, breeds, and sizes. Plus, it’s a training method built on positive reinforcement, which dogs respond well to. Once they perform the desired behavior (like playing dead or shaking hands), you just sound your clicker – and immediately after, give them a treat. The sound of the clicker provides them immediate, positive feedback. Plus, it’s a more consistent stimulus than the sound of your voice. So your dog can understand your expectations that much more clearly.
A senior dog facing cognitive decline might display behaviors that go against their house training. (Like, for example, peeing inappropriately around the house.) So revisiting their basic obedience training is actually a great way to keep them mentally active. Plus, it can also help you catch on to any physical difficulties they’re experiencing early on. (If, for example, they’re reluctant to Sit, Come, or play fetch.)
Make regular grooming a part of your routine
A home-friendly dog grooming routine is a great way to build your bond with your senior dog. It can also help you to catch on to any skin, nail, and teeth conditions early on.
- With regular teeth brushing, you can identify any changes in your dog’s teeth and gums. Dental bacteria can often enter your dog’s system – and even infect other organs, like their heart.
- Regular coat brushing can help you skim through your dog’s skin and catch on to any lesions or sores. Plus, it can help keep your dog’s fur from matting or tangling, which can increase the chances of an infection.
- Trimming your dog’s nails can help prevent mobility issues in the long-term. Plus, squamous cell carcinoma turns up most commonly in your dog’s mouth and toenails. So if you notice anything out of the ordinary, get in touch with your vet immediately.
We’d always recommend starting slow and introducing your senior dog gradually to any change in routine step by step. (A sudden change in habits might just stress them out instead.) Our post on dog grooming tips you can do at home covers a few simple steps you can get started with right away.
Stay on top of your vet visits
With regular drop-ins at your local vet, you can detect health issues early and manage them more easily. Besides this, your vet can also advise you on what food options work best for senior dogs. Or prescribe you the right supplements and medications your buddy needs.
Your vet could also advise you best on how to create a safe, comfortable environment for your dog at home. (Like special pillows and other items that can help, say, a dog struggling with arthritis sleep better.)
Consider pet insurance for your senior dog
If you’re concerned about the costs of multiple vet visits, consider investing in pet insurance for your senior dog. With a pet insurance policy, you can ensure your buddy’s getting the best possible care – without draining your bank account.
Much like regular insurance, you’re reimbursed if your pet insurance policy covers the different services your senior dog needs. In the US, this might cost you around $47 a month – as compared to an unexpected vet visit, which might cost you anywhere between $800-$1500.
Let your dog outdoors more often
Even if your dog’s less active than before, they’ll still benefit tremendously from the outdoor time. Besides the exercise, they’ll also enjoy the sunlight, sensory stimulation, and the sights, sounds, and smells of nature. Outdoor time is also a great way to keep your senior dog mentally active. (Especially if you take them along on hikes and other outdoor adventures.)
But what if your dog wanders off a trail – or doesn’t hear you call for them when they’re too close to a treeline? With Tractive’s real-time location and LIVE tracking, you can locate your buddy with just a glance at your phone. Or you can set up a “safe” zone – and get an immediate notification if your dog wanders past it. So you can track them wherever they are, even if you’re not together.
Help your buddy age gracefully – and build memories for a lifetime
As your buddy approaches their senior years, your care and companionship can go a long way to help them age gracefully. By taking an active role in monitoring their health, you can address age-related health problems early on. And ensure a longer, healthier, happier life for your dog – by your side.
Remember: every dog is unique – and dogs’ aging differs by size and breed. So your bigger buddies might need your help a bit earlier than your smaller ones. Make sure you’re tailoring your care plan to their needs. And always consult with your vet the minute you notice a change in their activity or sleep.
With patience, vigilance, and love, you can help your senior dog continue to be a cherished member of your family for years to come. So give them an extra cuddle today – and know that your care and attention will make their journey through their golden years a time of comfort and happiness.
Thinking of adopting a senior dog? Here’s something to end this post on a sweet note. Check out Steve Greig, who shares his bed with 9 senior dogs he’s rescued all by himself. (Along with his chicken, turkey, rabbit, and a pig named Bikini.)