November is Adopt A Senior Pet Month and 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.
Magic was just over eleven years old when he passed away last year, 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 still a puppy, now at 18 months old Bravo (below) weighs 119 pounds. As a “giant” breed, we’re hoping to keep him happy and healthy as long as possible.
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.
I have one word for you: ACCOMMODATION.
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!
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