Is there anything more adorable than a senior dog with little grey eyebrows or a salt-and-pepper snoot? Probably not. Those grey hairs are usually the first signs of age in dogs, but there are other, less obvious signs of aging in dogs that we should be aware of.
Changes in Activity Level
The average lifespan of a dog is about 13 years, depending on breed and size. Although your dog may still be fit and active as he moves into his senior years, his metabolism will start to slow down as he gets older. You’ll notice that your dog will run and play less, sleep more and may generally have a calmer demeanor.
A slower metabolism can also mean that your senior dog will be more sensitive to temperature extremes, so be sure to put on a coat in the winter or keep him in the shade or inside during the summer.
Another sign of aging in dogs is weight gain. It’s up to you to monitor your dog’s weight to keep it from creeping upward. Your veterinarian can recommend a more age-appropriate diet that can help your dog stay healthy and free of weight-related issues like labored breathing, mobility problems or joint pain that can lead to arthritis.
It’s not unusual for older dogs to develop food sensitivities. If your dog has started vomiting, having diarrhea or getting bloated after meals, you’ll want to talk to your veterinarian about changing diets or putting him on medication or supplements to alleviate discomfort and prevent nutrient malabsorption.
The aging process affects the musculoskeletal system, and as your dog ages, his bones can become more brittle, his ligaments and tendons can become less resilient, and his joints will be stiffer. Arthritis in dogs is normal as they get older, so be aware of stiffness or lameness, reluctance to move or difficulty walking.
Changes in Bathroom Habits
As joints start to stiffen and bladder or bowel functions decrease, you may notice that your dog will start having more urgent toilet calls, or even accidents in the house. It’s important to track any changes in frequency, type and location, both for your veterinarian and pet sitters. If your dog is dribbling urine or diarrhea around the house or on himself, take him to the veterinarian to determine if there are more serious underlying causes for the behavior.
Lumps and Bumps
Make it a habit to run your hands over your dog’s entire body on a regular basis to check for any new lumps, bumps, abrasions or hot spots. Lumps and bumps are a common sign of aging in dogs and aren’t always bad, they could just be benign fatty tumors, or lipomas, but thickening or bruising around the joints can be indicative of mobility issues or arthritis.
Changes in the Coat or Skin
Dogs can get balder as they get older, and hair loss is most apparent on short-haired or single-coated dogs like Pit Bulls, Chihuahuas or Boxers. That said, even dogs with dense or long coats can get bald patches. This can be simple age-related thinning or a sign of thyroid imbalances, hot spots, allergies or self-soothing.
Even with the best dental care, it’s hard to avoid “old dog breath.” Those stinky kisses can be a result of gum disease, tooth decay or digestive upset, so you’ll want to talk to your veterinarian about additional teeth cleanings, extractions or a change in diet.
Changes in Vision and Hearing
If you’ve noticed that your dog isn’t responding to commands or his eyes are getting cloudy, it’s most likely that he’s experiencing a deterioration in his vision and/or hearing.
Your dog’s reaction times (to commands or other external stimuli) will naturally decline along with his vision and hearing, so you’ll want to adjust your interactions and expectations accordingly. If the decline is sudden or debilitating, take him to the veterinarian immediately, as that may be a sign of something more severe than normal age-related change.
Changes in Behavior
Chronic pain and vision or hearing loss will often cause behavioral changes, and you may notice your dog getting more testy, aggressive, tired, fearful or confused. Be alert to signs of the more profound behavioral changes that accompany canine cognitive dysfunction, such as disorientation, changes in interactivity with family members or other pets, sleep-wake cycle and activity level changes and house soiling.
With proper care and good nutrition, your senior dog can live a long, happy and healthy life. As always, try to keep a baseline record of your dog’s behavior so that you can refer back to it as needed and don’t hesitate to take your pup to the veterinarian if necessary.