It’s amazing how different dog breeds can be, and not just in appearance or behavior, but in the way they age as well. Just like people, older dogs change as they age. Your veterinarian and dog depend on you to look for and recognize the signs that indicate your dog has entered his senior years. By giving your dog a little extra care and attention you can help him stay healthy during these years.

Generally speaking, most small or medium sized dogs enter their senior years by the time they are 8 years old, and 5 years old for larger dogs. However, it really depends on the individual dog.

How to recognize age

Following is a list of the common signs of dog aging. Many of the symptoms are similar to those that people experience as they age, and just like people, the way each dog ages is unique. Your dog may experience some of the following symptoms, and there are others he won’t experience.

Coat: As with people, older dogs may start to show gray hair. In dogs this usually appears first on their muzzle and around their eyes. Their hair may also become thinner and duller – however it’s important to see your veterinarian to ensure the thinness and dullness isn’t a sign of a nutritional deficiency.

Skin: The skin of an older dog may become thinner and more subject to injury. Dry skin can also be a problem for older dogs.

Incontinence: Older dogs sometimes have a problem controlling urination – even if they’ve been house-trained for years. If your dog starts urinating in inappropriate places it could be due to a health problem, and you should consult your vet.

Less activity: Arthritis may develop in your dog’s joints, which may make him less active if he finds it painful to move. You should still exercise your dog to keep his joints moving, but make sure you don’t overdo it.

Weight gain: Some dogs gain weight as they grow older. A weight gain may be the result of not getting as much exercise. Or, your dog may be getting too many calories in his diet. Senior dogs often need less calories, and your vet can best determine if this is the case.

Coughing: This is more common among smaller breeds. Their aging lungs may be producing too much mucous, which can block their smaller airways. Consult your veterinarian if you notice your dog coughing a lot – he or she can prescribe medication to help this condition and make your dog more comfortable.

Senses deteriorate: Your dog’s senses – hearing, sight, smell, and sense of direction – may dull as he ages. If your dog is no longer obeying you, for example, it may be that he can’t hear you. Your senior dog may also develop eye problems.

Nails: They may become brittle as your dog ages. As well, since your senior dog’s activity has likely decreased his nails may require more regular trimming since they’re not getting the same amount of exercise that walks on asphalt and other "natural nail trimmers" may have provided.

Behavioral changes: For example, your dog may back away when you pet him, or may show aggression. This may be a result of pain and discomfort.

Bad breath: This is often due to gum disease. Regular dental care, including brushing your dog’s teeth and providing him with dental checkups, and possibly a professional cleaning, can help.

What can you do to make the aging process easier?

  • Keep an upbeat attitude. Your dog will respond to it.
  • Watch for and react to any changes you notice with a visit to your veterinarian.

It’s important to realize that your veterinarian can help your senior dog’s health and comfort if he has any of the above symptoms. None of the symptoms should be accepted as "things that just happen with age" and left untreated. By consulting your veterinarian about the best treatment for your dog you can ensure that you are helping your canine companion live a happier, healthier life – and isn’t that what we all want for our dogs? You both have a lot to look forward to!