Celebrating Old Dogs
Each November, we celebrate old dogs during their “official” month. But when is your dog considered old? Shadow-Pup at just over two year’s old, has a way to go. We love our senior citizen dogs for the special joy they bring every day. But once a year, we celebrate old dogs during November Adopt A Senior Pet Month. Here are 8 reasons to consider adopting a senior pet.
I’ve already posted about celebrating old cats. It’s time to give equal time to old dogs. I’ve written about how to care for an elderly dog before, but this post addresses how to know when your canine friends become old dogs.
I’ve updated some of the information from when it first published back when my Magical-Dawg and Seren-Kitty were still around. For instance, we’ve recently replaced our carpets with hardwood floors. So when our Shadow-Pup reaches senior status, we’ll help him out with some accommodations like these “toe grips” from Dr. Buzby that help reduce unsteady gaits.
What Is Old for Dogs?
Magic was just over eleven years old when he passed away, and my first GSD lived to thirteen and a half. One is middle-aged and the other considered geriatric, and a lot of it has to do with the size of the pet. When our furry friends reach a “certain age” it becomes much more important to stay on top of changes, and just keep ’em comfy during their golden years.
My first GSD (below) launched my pet-writing career. He waited until we got home from work, and died with us beside him, on Halloween night. I still miss him.
How Old are Old Dogs?
What is considered “old?” There are individual differences between pets, just as there are for people. While one person may act, look and feel “old” at fifty-five, another fifty-five-year-old remains active with a youthful attitude and appearance. Aging is influenced by a combination of genetics, environment, and health care over a lifetime. The oldest dog on record was an Australian Cattle Dog who lived for twenty-nine years and five months.
A good definition of old age for an animal is the last 25 percent of her life. However, we can’t accurately predict what an individual pet’s lifespan will be, so pinpointing when old age begins is tough. Ask the breeder about the lifespan of your pet’s parents and grandparents. That’s a good predictor of how long you could expect your cat or dog to live. Mixed-ancestry pets are more difficult to predict, but you can make a few generalities.
How to Predict Old Dogs Lifespan
In the past fifty years, the average lifespan of small dogs like the Maltese above, has tripled. They used to live to be only six or seven years old, but today it’s not unusual for your Chihuahua to live into late teens or early twenties. With an average potential lifespan of fifteen to seventeen years, the onset of old age—when a little dog becomes “senior”—would be about age eleven to thirteen.
Even large-breed dogs, which age more quickly, commonly reach ten to thirteen years of age—double the lifespan of the past few decades. They would, therefore, be considered old starting at about seven years.
Giant breed dogs (those weighing over eighty pounds or so) tend to age more quickly than smaller pets. Great Danes, for example, are considered “senior” at age five, and typically live only seven to nine years. There are exceptions, of course, with some very large dogs living healthy, happy lives well into their teens. Though he’s no longer a puppy, Bravo (below) weighs just over 100 pounds (he lost 20 pounds when he lost his leg to cancer). As a “giant” breed, we tried to keep him happy and healthy as long as possible. Although his chemo treatment slowed his disease we cherished every day as a win!
Old Dogs & Youthful Doggedness?
So you have an old fogey doggy–how do you keep him youthful? What happens when that go-go-go puppy attitude turns into a yen for snoozing the day away? Dogs can become frustrated when their youthful abilities fade away and they’re no longer able to leap tall buildings–or onto sofas–with a single bound, or chase the Frisbee and catch it without effort. They may suffer from brain aging, but you can reverse or slow senility with these tips.
I have one word for you: ACCOMMODATION.
Enrich the Environment
Enrich the dog’s environment and make accommodations for his new skill set. Agility dogs can still perform all those tricks of fetch and vault, just lower the bar a bit. For blind dogs, put a bell inside the ball or scent with liverwurst so his nose knows where to find it. For deaf dogs, you can use hand signals and replace the clicker with a flashlight beam flicking on and off.
I have a boatload of more tips and advice in the book Complete Care for Your Aging Dog.
What about your old dogs–what games do they love? Have you made accommodations for their aging abilities? Please share!
I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions.
I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!
Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!
Wow. Great to read this. Being a dog breeder and exhibitor I had many dogs around – some for short time and quite a few til it was time to go home to the Rainbow Bridge to wait for me. But thru all that, there were some that really stuck with me like Tara my fawn Great Dane. She never did to great in the show ring so I I kept her as our house pet but did breed her. She produced 52 quite fantastic pups but more importantly she was guardian of our kids. She taught the first two to walk by standing only as high as their little arms could reach and slowly walk in a crouched position. She lived a long life _ to age 13 when her eyes told me not to keep trying to save her from the bloat that was killing her. So we didn’t. Another was my beautiful Harle Dane who lived to be a happy 7 when his heart decided it was time. Within in three weeks of his passing my 11 y/o Westie too passed. Then there was Keighley (my son was “her” boy) and she too became a champion and produced 32 pups. She lived to be 13 and never complained or showed my husband she was ravaged with Lymphoma while I was recuperating in bed from surgery. It developed to recognition over a 2 wk period and so sadly I put her to sleep. She was deaf and nearly blind so I had to stare into her eyes as when went to permanent sleep….she wouldn’t hear me say I love you. She left me with gorgeous son Guinness who also achieved his championship but just loved to be our house dog. Guinness was the last of our dogs – showing and breeding and kennel. He lived to be able to move to our present home where he had a fenced yard and no coyotes to worry about. He was MY dog of all of them we had thru the years. Even in his old age he detected my every need and the “pizza crusts” . He had a spleen tumor that ruptured at age 15 1/2 . Due to age and heart we could not operate. Like his mother he was deaf by then and nearly blind so again I watched his life leave cause he couldn’t hear me say I love you. He was my last. He outlived all his siblings and parents (34 dogs) but they all lived to be 8-12 years old. Unfortunately my health has changed so can’t care for a dog right now. But my last statement is that loving those dogs thru their senior years was a s great as when they were pups – just in a different way. AND to every one who has that decision to put their dog to sleep — you OWE it to that companion to be right there with him when the vet has to put him to rest. Remember they will wait for you at the rainbow bridge for you …..along with all of my dogs – over 21.
Oh Judi, thanks for sharing. And I have to disagree with you that your deaf dogs couldn’t hear your love expressed — if not hear, I have no doubt they felt it, were warmed by it, and knew at that moment of passing that you were with them. You will have a wonderful reunion — wow, 21 dogs! What a joyous time that will be!
This one really hits close to home. Thank you for this. It means more than you know.
I’m glad it struck a chord. Thanks, Frank.
Yes! Puppies are a ton of work! I wish more people would adopt senior dogs. There are so many that are well behaved and loving, just looking for a nice home.
I wish we had 3 months a year dedicated to adopting senior dogs!
Such a wonderful post! While I cannot believe it, all of my remaining Huskies are now considered “seniors,” three at 10, will be 11 in January, and one is 13.5 (who still thinks she’s a pup, but is showing somesigns of her age). I am so thankful their lifespans have increased over the years, give me so much hope. We are looking at a relocation, that does have me concerned as they are in their golden years, and I have them on such a wonderful “same-o, same-o” schedule they are so used to and comfortable with. All four of them enrich my life so much, and I so enjoy their company and their silliness brightens up my day! No matter the age, Huskies retain their sense of humor! <3
My dogs are both 9 now, which scares the heck out of me. Fortunately they’re both still quite active. Good advice & informative, thanks!
Love & biscuits,
Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them
Age is just a number. I’m so glad you mentioned that for each pet it varies. I’ve never owned dogs however can testify that older pets , in my case cats, can live energetic healthy full lives just like their younger counterparts. They just move a little slower. Thanks for shedding light on how great older seniors can enrich our lives.
I’m glad that dogs lifespans have increased so much! We had a Yorkie who lived to be 17 and passed away in the mid 80’s. I think she had some awesome genes to live so long back then! All of my current dogs are over 8 years old, but since they are small, I still think of them as middle-aged. We are adding a ramp from the backyard to the porch so that it will be easier for them as they age.
My lab Cookie started to age at around 12 and died at 13.5 with cancer and arthritis- we walked her in a cart towards the end as she still wanted to get out. Isabelle the street dog slightly smaller mix of Chow and lab still ran and looked like a puppy at 16. At 17 she started to age and then died in my arms at nearly 18. Kilo the Pug is 6.5 and seems like a puppy still.
My mom’s dog is 11 now and he is a Shih Tzu mix. He is beginning to show signs of being a senior. His face is already turning white and he has slowed down. We think he’s beginning to have some vision issues, but he is still a love bug!
I didn’t realize the lifespan of small dogs has increased by so much. I’m hoping with a fresh diet, my Chihuahua can see 30 – who knows!
It’s important to understand the breed differences. What is old for a Rottie, is quite young for a Border Collie, for example.
My niece’s dog is nine, and we’re hoping to have many, many more years with him. My cat, Lexy is now 10, and I can’t believe how fast the years fly. It just seems like yesterday when I adopted her at 1 1/2.
Ruby is now 11 or 12, but fortunately still seems remarkably young. We are hoping she continues on this path for many years. Our previous Yorkie mix (we have a thing for Yorkie mixes) lived to 13 and by the time he was Ruby’s age, his health was in decline. I know a lot more about nutrition now than I did with our first baby, which I think has definitely helped. Ruby also is more active and likes long walks and hikes whereas Pip (our first guy) was always more of a couch potato and quite stubborn about not liking walks unless he was being pushed in a stroller. LOL.
My dog just turned 11 a couple weeks ago, but the only thing that really betrays her age is the grey on her snout. As far as she’s concerned, she’s still a puppy, full of energy. She does get tired more quickly than she used to, though, so I need to be a bit mindful when exercising her.
Just like with people, I feel like “old” is an attitude 🙂 Our girl is 10 and her muzzle is starting to grey – a visual reminder that she is getting on in years. Luckily, her disposition and health are still going strong!
That’s great, Michelle. Still going strong at 10 is fantastic–may she have many more adventures in the years ahead
Great post! My vet considers my oldest dog to be a senior since he’ll be 10 next month. It’s funny though, because he’s just as active and spunky as he’s ever been. He loves to go running at the park, and wrestling with his younger ‘brother” all the time. My almost 10 year old has no trouble at all keeping up with his 3 year old dog brother. I’m hoping his youthfulness means that he has many, many more years left with us.
I hope so, too, Chelle. I think having other pets in the home really helps keep them all young and active.
Great post, Layla is 11 years old and she is still in many ways Ms Piss & Vinegar, full of energy and puppyish in so many ways, I am loving it and feel for as long as she is happy and healthy that is all that counts
Yep, emotional health and quality of life trumps everything else. Thanks for visiting the blog!
I remember Chester was almost 10 before I realized he was a “senior dog”. In my defense, he was very fit and active so he hadn’t started looking and acting old by then. He was also my first dog too. Gretel is almost 9 now and I see some of the changes in her that I saw in Chester as he approached his senior years. It makes me said because I don’t want her to age but I’m definitely prepared to change how I do things to accommodate her if needed.
Hi Jessica. Changes can be so gradual that when we live with our dogs, we don’t notice those subtle signs. Hi hope Gretel continues to age gracefully.
Great post Amy! I say age is a number on a calendar. One day you’re fine, the next day you’re considered “old.” I also say it’s a state of mind, since I’ve known people in their early 30s who acted way older than those in their 80s. I adopt old dogs and it seems like so much of my day revolves around ensuring they are comfortable and their home is safe. That means things like nothing on the floor a blind dog can trip over, covering table legs with foam, beds with easy access to name just a few. While in my mind every day should be a tribute to old pets, I’m glad an entire month is dedicated in their honour.
I love your blog and all the helpful tips you offer to make aging dogs feel comfy and happy during their golden years!
Great blog as always Amy. My Bear (Shepherd/lab combo) lived 17 or 18 years. (The guy we got him from said he was 2, the vet said 1.) At 5 he developed cataracts and became totally blind. He did not give up playing fetch until he was 13 or 14. All you had to do was bounce the ball and be sure it wasn’t going to run into anything. (We had several collisions in the beginning. My bad!) At 15 he gave up his steel-belted radial tire chew toy. My point is that at 75 to 85 pounds and his sight handicap, he still lived a long and wonderful life. We even went on walks. I was his seeing-eye human. LOL!
Hi Vandi, I love that story! Bear must have been a wonderful fellow. Magic is another one that adores balls. Our dogs (and cats) do learn quickly how to compensate for loss of sight. Thanks so much for commenting.
I fostered an elderly Black Lab a few years ago for what was supposed to be a couple of weeks. She had severe arthritis and many types of tumors in various spots but she had a zest for life and the shelter staff just couldn’t put her down. I wanted to give her last days some fun in my big back yard. She LOVED playing fetch but I threw it fairly close to her so she wouldn’t have to go far and sometimes I threw it right to her. She still loved it. We took walks because she also loved to get out but our walks were short and very slow. And, she really didn’t like car rides but everytime I went toward the car she’d come “running” so I lifter her into the back seat and took her for rides. I think she just wanted to be with me.
Eleven months later when she eventually gave me the sign I sent her off with my love. It was the most rewarding relationship I’ve ever had with a dog.
Oh Andrea, what a lovely experience. What a wonderful thing that you were able to share such special times with her. Thanks so much for posting this.
We lost our soft-coated Wheaten at age twelve but she never really seemed to age. While her “naps” did become a tad extended, her tail-wagging enthusiasm to be included in everything never waned. We hope to do as well! And, oh man, do we miss her …
Oh, a Wheaten! Lovely breed–she sounds like an awesome companion, Patricia. There appears to be a lot of tail-wagging in this thread. That makes me smile!
Hi Amy, I’m very lucky with my first Welsh Springer, who lived to be 15. The last five years of her life were hard ones, but until near the end, her tail never stopped wagging and she was always happy to see me. She loved going places with me and loved training and doing tricks, so that’s how I kept her young. In fact, at 14, she went to the tracking tests with me, and just hung out with all of us. She had a good time, and absolutely loved being my driving buddy. Still miss her, but am hoping that young Rosy (3 years old now) will equal her distance in lifespan.
Hi Kim, we can learn so much from our special dogs. “…her tail never stopped wagging…” Wow. Just–wow.
Rosy has some big paws to follow!
Nice post, Amy. I love old dogs – those beautiful gray muzzles always touch my heart. When I used to visit my mother in the nursing home I felt relaxed and peaceful around the senior folks. I think I feel the same way in the presence of senior critters.
We made many accommodations for Jake as he got older. I still have an array of ramps in the garage – different ones for different cars and different situations. Those ramps represented trips to parks, book signings and visits to friends. They hold the paw prints of a dog who will always be in my heart.
Hi Chris, love the sentiment “…hold the paw prints of a dog who will always be in my heart.”
Glowing paws, at that. *s* Yes, I received your book–THANK YOU! And I choked up with recognition nearly every page, especially the note about favorite toys disappearing…*wiping eyes*
thanks Amy, enjoyed reading this post today (owner of two senior dogs, a 12-year old doxie and an 11-year of Chi/Terrier mix).
Hi Shelley, thanks for visiting! Love those old guys. *s*