Gus, a Labrador Retriever, runs after a tennis ball, then leaps off the end of a pier. Splashing into the lake, he effortlessly swims to the floating ball and happily brings it back to his owner on the shore. Gus is seven years old, but you’d never guess by watching him play. As dogs age, they don’t always slow down. For Gus and other active dogs like him, this raises an interesting question: at what age is a dog considered a senior?
Not all the same
Just as with people, you can’t point to a particular moment and say, “at this age a dog is considered a senior.” Dogs are individuals in the way they grow, age, and develop over time. Differing environments and lifestyles, along with factors like injuries, breed, weight, and activity levels, shape who they are. The result is that some dogs age more quickly than others.
However, there are a few general guidelines. Large dogs age faster than small dogs. Larger breeds—think Bernese Mountain Dogs and Great Danes—tend to have lifespans of less than ten years.1 For dogs like these, being a “senior” might mean anything over the age of five. But small dog breeds—like Yorkshire Terriers and Chihuahuas—usually live longer, well into their teens. These petite canines probably won’t be considered seniors until around age ten. When you average these ages out, you can make the case that the typical dog becomes a senior around the age of seven.
So, is a seven-year-old dog a senior? The answer is yes, but the answer is also, “it depends.”
Senior but still going strong
Eventually, you’ll start to see some changes in your dog as he ages. There will be some obvious physical changes, like greying around the muzzle, which is harmless. It’s also common for older dogs to exhibit clouding in their eyes. One frequent cause is a condition called nuclear sclerosis.2 Happily, nuclear sclerosis probably won’t affect your dog’s vision, even though his eyes are cloudy. But there are other eye conditions, such as cataracts, that do affect vision. It’s a good idea to have your dog’s eyes examined by your vet. Your senior dog may also begin to suffer from hearing loss, and he could start to move more slowly.
Despite this, it’s important to realize your dog’s lifestyle won’t necessarily change when he becomes a senior. Aging is a gradual process that is different for each dog. It’s possible your dog may stay active long past the age of seven. You might notice your senior dog sleeps more than he did in his younger years. An orthopedic bed can be a comfortable choice for senior dogs.
To keep your senior dog healthy, make sure you feed him a diet designed for seniors and exercise him regularly3 with safe activities that are gentle on aging dogs. Remember Gus swimming in the lake? Swimming is a recommended exercise for older dogs, as it allows them to work their muscles in a way that is easy on their bodies. And basic walking is almost always a pleasant pastime and exercise. (Traveling to your favorite walking spot? Consider using a pet seat to help keep your senior dog safe and secure in your vehicle.)
As your dog ages, it’s important to keep routine visits with your veterinarian. All dogs need to see the vet every year for their annual check-up to make sure they’re healthy. Because senior dogs are more prone to ailments, you may want to start taking your dog to the vet more frequently, at least twice a year.4 But talk with your vet to get his or her advice on what’s best for your pet.
Caring for your aging dog requires a few adjustments. These will make his senior years more enjoyable and give you many more opportunities for adventure and fun!
1. AKC, “Bernese Mountain Dog.” https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/bernese-mountain-dog/
2. Carlson Animal Hospital Blog, “Aging Changes in your Dog’s Eyes,” https://www.carlsonanimalhospitals.com/blog/2016/04/aging-changes-in-your-dogs-eyes/
3. Finlay, Katie. American Kennel Club. “How to Provide Your Senior Dog with Proper Exercise,” 8 May 2020, https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/provide-senior-dog-proper-exercise/.
4. Toporowski, Ashley. “How Often Should I Take My Dog to the Vet?” 24 January, 2019, https://www.campbellrivervet.com/often-take-dog-vet/.