According to guidelines published by Tufts University, "The point at which a dog qualifies as 'aged' varies. Veterinarians generally consider small dogs to be senior citizens at about 12 years of age, while large dogs reach the senior stage at 6 to 8 years of age. This roughly corresponds to the 55-plus category in people."
Beyond actual age, however, there are signs and behaviors that can, as you say, clue owners into the aging process of dogs. The Senior Dogs Project says that one of the first signs of aging in dogs is slowing down. Basic movements like getting up and climbing stairs may take a while longer, which may be evidence of possible internal changes, such as arthritis.
While we cannot prevent such physical changes from occurring, we can help to slow their rate. Robin Downing, DVM, of the Downing Center for Animal Pain Management in Windsor, Colo., shared a story with HealthyPet Magazine about a dog named Molly: “Molly wasn’t leaping on and off the beds anymore, and she didn’t want to go for long walks. Her family was worried that this dog had just suddenly succumbed to old age, but when I did a geriatric workup on her, we discovered Molly had a thyroid condition and arthritic back pain. A maintenance prescription of thyroid replacement hormone, pain and anti-inflammatory medication for the osteo-arthritis in her back, and Molly was back in business.”
Downing described a particular medical course of action for Molly, but there are some more general things you can do to stave off aging and related diseases. According to the Senior Dogs Project, these steps include:
- Keeping your dog’s weight down (through good nutrition and regular exercise)
- Keeping its teeth clean
- Taking it to the vet for regular checkups
- Being observant about symptoms that might indicate a health problem and getting prompt and appropriate veterinary attention
The good news is that dogs are now living longer, higher-quality lives. With good genes, good care and some good luck, there’s an excellent chance that your senior dog still has many more years left to enjoy with you.