When Is Your Dog "Old"? The old rule-of-thumb that one dog year equals 7 years of a human life is not exact. The ratio is higher with youth and decreases a bit as your dog ages. Depending on the breed, a dog experiences the raging hormones of adolescence anywhere from 8 months to 2 years or more. Generally, a dog of 6 has aged about as much as a 45-year-old human. At 10, she's like a human of 65; at 12, a human of 75; and at 15, a human of 90. You are the best judge of your dog's stage of life. Even if she is in the best of health, it's important that you notice when your dog begins to show her age. After years of constant companionship, however, you may not see the first subtle signs of decline. No matter how close you are, your dog does not know how to communicate little aches and pains, and even some bigger discomforts to you. She doesn't understand what's happening to her when she can't run as fast or jump as high.
Dogs are Living Longer Lives. Since the 1930s, the canine life span has increased more than 70 percent, from seven years to 12! And that's just the average. With advances in veterinary care and nutrition and more knowledgeable owners, many good-sized dogs now live to 14. Of course, no one can really predict how long an individual dog will live. There's always the possibility of unpredictable illness or accident. Or, a genetic predisposition to disease may lurk in your dog's genes. But generally speaking, the larger the breed, the faster it ages. Giant breeds - even pampered and exercised St. Bernards - can begin to show their years as early as four and have a life expectancy of 7 to 11 years. The Chihuahua is the smallest breed, with adults weighing between 2 and 9 pounds. They can live 18 years or more. Certain breeds do better than others, as do mixed breeds. On average, smaller mutts and mutts with dominant genes from smaller breeds live longest.
6 Tips to Help “Spot” Age Gracefully:
1. Keep the weight off: This seems so simple, but it’s possibly the most important thing you can do for your pets. The benefits go beyond just the physical. Keeping your pet at a healthy weight not only helps the joints and organ systems, preventing illness, but also helps your pet stay more active, which slows down mental and physical aging issues. Diet and exercise combined are key to helping your pet be more comfortable as an advanced adult. Be busy: Your dog or cat needs to stay not only physically active, but mentally active. If the walks are getting shorter, consider short stints of low-key indoor activities using enrichment toys. Vary their play and activities. Keep things fresh. Take them for rides or along on the family camping trip. Even a change in scenery helps keep their brains active and resilient, fighting dementia and confusion.
2. Don’t overdo it: The saying “no pain, no gain” doesn’t apply to senior pets. In fact, quite the opposite. Pets will do whatever they can to make us happy, which sometimes means walking further or faster than they would if they listened to their own bodies. Don’t push your pet past their comfort level. Keep exercise reasonable and consistent.
3. Be true to your pet: every dog is not the same. If your dog prefers people to pets, maybe getting him a puppy is a bad idea. But, if your old girl was always a social butterfly, maybe a younger companion would help bring some joy and energy back into her life. Consider your pet’s personality and lifestyle when trying to help them be their most comfortable, happiest self.
4. Listen to your pet's body: Pets can’t tell us where it hurts or what they did that caused them pain. What’s worse is that they often hide pain or discomfort. It’s a primal instinct to avoid being looked upon as weak, but it can cause problems when your pet is hiding a serious issue. Don’t expect your dog or cat to come whimpering to you to tell you they’re developing arthritis. Watch for tell-tale signs of slowing down, confusion, and reluctance to participate in normal activities. If your pet seems achy, is eating poorly, not sleeping well, or less social than usual, call your vet.
5. Savor the moment: When someone tells you to “stop and smell the roses,” maybe think about taking your dog on a walk. Lie down with your dog or cat while they enjoy their naps in a sunny spot, drive around the block an extra time as they stick their nose out the car window, and let them have a nibble off of your peanut butter and banana sandwich. It will help them feel loved and appreciated and you’ll never regret taking those moments to engage and bond with your pet. When they’re long gone, you’ll cherish those memories more than any others.