When Is a Dog Considered a Senior? 11 Signs to Watch For

Dog aging and figuring out when your dog is a senior can be a bit complicated. Find out how aging differs by breed and how to support your senior pup.

Jun 18, 2024·10 min read
When Is a Dog Considered a Senior? 11 Signs to Watch For

When is a dog considered a senior? With at least 65 million United States households sharing life with at least one dog [1], pet parents can benefit by knowing what age their canine companions enter their golden years. Gone are the days of equating one dog year to seven human years. Instead, savvy pet parents should factor in a few things to determine if and when their dog becomes a senior. 

Good news is on the horizon for anyone with a senior dog: pets live longer than they did years ago [2]. And researchers at the Dog Aging Project set their sights on the impact of genes, lifestyle, and environmental factors to determine how dogs age. There’s never been a better time to share life with a senior dog. 

In this article, we explore dog years, when a dog is considered a senior, and provide guidance on how to best care for dogs during this stage of life.  

Understanding Dog Aging: Accurately Defining Dog Years 

If only determining when a dog is a senior was as simple as referencing a single chart, but it’s not that easy. As dogs age, their bodies experience changes both inside and out, just like humans. One must combine several factors to determine when your dog is considered a senior. 

“I took an Aging Dog class as an elective in vet school,” says Dr. Sharon Daley of Wake Forest, North Carolina. “There was never an agreement on the age of a senior dog because there are so many things that go into determining the number.” 

There is a false belief that one dog year is equal to seven human years. But, unfortunately, that method for determining a dog’s age is not accurate.  

As puppies, the fastest growth happens in the first year to two of life, depending on the breed. However, as dogs age, larger purebred or mixed breeds will show signs of aging sooner than their medium or small counterparts. Depending on the breed and size, the aging rate can increase or decrease, which makes determining an actual senior age a bit complex. 

Most healthy humans age over several decades and life stages. Dogs, however, tend to age more quickly and reach adulthood by the time they turn one or two years old. Compare that to humans with prolonged development, reaching adulthood between 18 and 21 years old. 

When Dr. Daley sees canine patients whose age is unknown in her practice, she examines various factors, such as eyes, teeth (sometimes), a joint assessment, and more. Each dog is an individual, and several factors go into labeling a dog a senior, which we will discuss. 

When Is a Dog Considered a Senior? 

Smaller dogs tend to live longer than larger breeds for various reasons. Larger breeds experience rapid growth and higher metabolism and are prone to more health issues at a younger age.  

For example, here’s a breakdown of senior age by breed size. Keep in mind that these are averages and not set in stone. Some dogs outlive their average lifespan, while health and genetics may decrease the lifespan of any dog at any given time. 

Breed SizeLifespanPuppyAdultSenior
Small12-18 years 0-1 year old1-8 years 10-12 years 
Medium12-15 years0-1 year old1-7 years8-10 years 
Large8-12 years0-1 year old1-6 years 6-8 years 
Giant7-11 years 0-1 year old1-4 years5-6 years 

Small Breeds 

Small breeds — like Pomeranians and Chihuahuas — have an average lifespan between 12 and 18 years. These dogs enter their senior years later than medium and large dogs. Small dog breeds are generally considered seniors around 10-12 years of age.  

Medium Breeds 

Medium-breed dogs have an average lifespan of 12-15 years and usually reach senior status between the ages of 8 and 10 years old. Breed examples include Cocker Spaniels and Border Collies.  

Large Breeds 

Bigger dogs will become seniors earlier than their small and medium counterparts. Dog breeds like Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Rottweilers have average lifespans of 8-12 years and become seniors somewhere between 6-8 years of age.  

Giant Breeds 

Giant-breed dogs — like Great Danes and Scottish Deerhounds — reach senior age the fastest. Because these canines only live from 7-11 years on average, they become seniors closer to 5-6 years of age.  

Variables That Impact Dog Aging 

Answering “How old is a senior dog?” depends on several components. Many other variables affect how a dog ages, including: 

  • Regular veterinary care: Checkups to detect issues and manage ongoing concerns. 
  • Proper nutrition for their lifestyle and needs: A high-quality diet is essential. 
  • Mental and physical stimulation: Both types of exercise keep dogs in shape. 
  • Genetics: Being genetically predisposed to diseases contributes to overall lifespan. 
  • Environment: Being stress-free, minimizing exposure to chemicals and toxins, etc. 
  • Socialization and companionship: Regular positive interaction with people and other pets. 

11 Signs of Senior Age in Dogs 

Brown, old senior dachshund with white muzzle

There are some common tell-tale signs of senior age in dogs. If you spot these signs in your pup, they could be entering or in the senior stage of their life:  

Graying Fur: This is usually seen around the muzzle and paws.  

Reduced Energy: Senior dogs may spend more time sleeping and less time in active play 

Vision Changes: You might find your dog bumping into objects or notice cloudiness of the eyes. 

Hearing Changes: Senior dogs may not not respond to calls as easily or notice sounds in their environment.  

Sleep Changes: Senior dogs may become more restless as they age and could experience changes in their sleep patterns.  

Confusion or Disorientation: Dogs can begin to experience disorientation or confusion as they get older. Discuss any signs of cognitive decline with your veterinarian. 

More Potty Breaks or Accidents: Urinary or bowel changes in senior dogs may lead to more household accidents or needing to urinate more frequently.  

Changes in Coat and Skin: A dog’s skin may lose elasticity as they age and senior dogs may also experience hair loss. Any new lumps or bumps on senior dogs should be examined by a vet.  

Change in Mobility: Senior dogs may have a harder time getting up from a seated or lying down position, may walk more slowly, or may have a more difficult time climbing stairs.  

Voice Differences: Pet parents could detect noticeable changes in the sound and tone of their dog’s bark as aging sets in.  

Increased Clinginess: “One thing many pet parents overlook with dog old age is that they become clingy,” remarks Dr. Daley. “Dogs feel vulnerable when their vision or hearing changes, and they may cling closer to their owners.” 

As previously mentioned, the signs of senior age in dogs can vary greatly depending on a dog’s lifestyle, genetics, and overall health. Keeping an eye out for physical and behavioral changes in your dog can help you provide the necessary support and care as they grow older.  

Ways to Keep Your Senior Dog Comfortable 

Supporting your senior dog during their golden years is one of the best ways to make them comfortable and happy while reinforcing the human-animal bond. Here are ways that you can make your dog’s senior years the very best.  

Health and Lifestyle Support  

Follow these tips for supporting your senior dog both physically and mentally: 

Increase vet visits. Visit the veterinarian at least twice a year for checkups and screenings. This can help catch any changes or issues early, making them easier to treat.  

Feed an age-appropriate dog food. Feed a healthy, age-appropriate diet, including talking to your veterinarian about switching to a senior dog food.  

Keep your dog at a healthy weight. Weight directly impacts a dog’s joints, and the more overweight a dog is, the faster the aging process seems to progress, says Dr. Daley. “It’s best to keep your dog on the leaner side because it’s overall good for their health and longevity.” 

Feed fish oil. Add fish oil to your dog’s diet, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA and EPA. Fish oil can help support joint, skin, and immune health.  

Keep dogs mentally and physically stimulated. Help keep your dog’s cognition sharp by offering brain games and puzzle toys. Regular exercise and walks will ensure your senior dog stays in great shape. 

Keep up with grooming. Regular grooming sessions help you examine your dog’s skin and coat for any changes.  

Incorporate joint supplements. Dog joint supplements can help your dog’s mobility and comfort as they age. PetLab Co.’s Joint Care Chews are senior dog supplements designed to provide support for occasional joint stiffness and help with comfort and flexibility.  

In-Home Modifications 

Make adjustments and changes to your dog’s home environment to adapt to their needs.   

Prevent slipping. Using nail grips, stair treads, or carpeting on hardwood floors to prevent slipping. 

Use dog ramps. Placing dog-friendly ramps or stairs near couches or beds for joint support. 

Change your dog’s bed. Consider an orthopedic dog bed for joint and spine support. 

Lift your dog’s bowl. Elevate dog bowls off the ground so your dog doesn’t have to stretch and bend to access food and water. 

Use reflective tape. Add reflective tape to stairs or other areas so senior dogs can easily see where they are walking. 

Consider a dog stroller. If your senior pup has a hard time keeping up on walks, consider investing in a dog stroller or a wagon. This will help you continue outdoor enrichment activities with your dog, even if their mobility declines.  

Making Your Senior Dog’s Life Sweet 

Millions of pet parents hold a special place in their hearts for old dogs. These faithful companions make people better versions of themselves. In their twilight years, we owe our dogs the extra support, cuddles, tummy rubs, and care they need. 

Now that you know dog years to human years isn’t a simple equation, you can spend more time loving and spoiling your senior pup at every stage. 

When you look down at your furry friend, graying in the muzzle or slower in gait, remember that each moment shared is a testament to your love and bond. Nothing can ever take that away – not even the hands of time. Enjoy your special senior dog and live life to its fullest. 

Resources 

  1. https://www.statista.com/topics/1258/pets/#topicOverview 
  1. https://news.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=210&Id=11631825&f5=1 
Carol BryantC
WRITTEN BY

Carol Bryant

Carol is the Immediate Past President of the Dog Writers Association of America and is well-known in the pet industry, appearing on television, radio shows, and podcasts, as well as in articles from CNN and Yahoo to Dogster and Today.com. She is a copywriter, content marketer, and awarded blogger who owns FidoseofReality.com and SmartDogCopy.com.

Related posts

newsletter

Join Our Mailing List For Pupdates & Access To Special Discounts!

facebookinstagramyoutubetiktok

Pay Securely With

Visa card
Mastercard
American Express card
PayPal
Disover card
Google pay
Apple pay

© 2024 PetLab Co.

The information contained within this site is not intended as a substitute for professional medical or veterinary advice. PetLab Co. is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If your pet has, or you suspect your pet has any medical condition, you are urged to consult your veterinarian. Medical conditions can only be diagnosed by a licensed veterinarian. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Results May Vary. Not intended for human consumption. Please consult your veterinarian regarding any change in treatment or supplementation.
*In Amazon Pet Health Category in 2022
Back to top button