Of course, we want them to stay puppies forever, but just like people, our dogs grow and age. Dogs have different needs as they get older, and they go through behavioral changes as well. Understanding the signs of aging and taking steps to ensure your older dog is happy and healthy will help them enjoy the retirement they deserve. 

Getting Older: How Old Is a “Senior” Dog? 

The adage that one human year is equivalent to seven dog years is actually pretty inaccurate. Determining which stage of life a dog is at depends on several factors, but mainly on their size and breed. 

  • Small breeds like chihuahuas and pugs tend to become seniors at ten to twelve years of age. 
  • Medium-sized breeds like golden retrievers and pit bulls are seniors at the age of seven or eight. 
  • Large breeds like Great Danes and St. Bernards hit the senior mark the soonest, typically when they are around five to seven years old. 

Behavioral Changes in Senior Dogs 

As your dog ages their personalities can start to shift. The reason for a behavioral shift can be from pain associated with aging, fear from loss of senses, or even changes in their mental state. 

They will often exhibit these changes in behavior:

  • More howling, barking, or whining
  • Pacing
  • Anxiety
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns
  • Lethargy 
  • Aggression

While small behavioral changes are normal, extreme changes can be a sign of pain, mental degradation, or extreme illness. Contact your vet if you notice a sudden behavioral shift.

Health and Physical Changes for Senior Dogs

As your dog ages, you might notice physical changes. Things like a graying muzzle, weight gain or loss, and the loss of hearing or sight are all typical signs of aging in dogs. 

Your dog may also become more susceptible to illness and disease. Symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea in senior pets can be more damaging than in healthy, younger animals. Contact your veterinarian right away if you notice symptoms of an illness or emergency

Illnesses Your Senior Dog Might Become More Susceptible To

Senior Dog Care 

Caring for a senior dog often means adjusting your daily habits. Your dog might not be able to walk as far as they once did or enjoy the same treats, but that does not mean you two have to completely stop doing or eating the things you both enjoy.

Keeping Your Senior Dog Active 

  • Instead of long walks, try taking more frequent, shorter walks. These smaller walks will give your dog a break allowing muscles to rest, and help them from becoming too stagnant throughout the day which can aggravate arthritic joints and sore muscles.
  • Match your dog’s pace—slow down on energetic games like fetch if you notice your dog getting tired. Following your dog’s lead will help keep your senior dog from straining muscles. 
  • Offer more water and rest breaks when hiking with older dogs.
  • Focus on mental stimulation, like puzzle toys to help keep your dog’s brain sharp. Just like humans, puzzles for dogs can help slow mental decline for senior dogs. 

Feeding Your Senior Dog 

  • Switch treats for something new depending on your dog’s new diet. Dogs who are losing too much weight may need a higher-calorie treat, while dogs who are gaining too much weight might need a lower-calorie treat. 
  • Talk to your vet about switching to a kibble that is formulated for senior dogs. 
  • Avoid table scraps, people’s food is typically not safe or particularly healthy for dogs. Too much of the good stuff, like steak and fats, is more likely to cause heart disease in senior dogs who are at an increased risk already. 

Veterinary Care for Senior Dogs in Gilbert

Caring for a senior dog takes a team. A good veterinarian will guide you through all the ups and downs of caring for a senior dog. From addressing health concerns to answering questions about new behaviors or changing your dog’s food, the team at East Valley Animal Hospital is here to help. 

Our staff of highly trained veterinarians, technicians, and support staff know the importance of quality care for our furry friends. We offer yearly checkups, vaccinations, and state-of-the-art diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation. Contact us today with any questions about our services or to make an appointment for a wellness exam.



Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (4/28/24). Photo by Alicia Gauthier on Unsplash.