Pet Health, Pets and Family

When is your dog a Senior Dog and Other Senior Dog Facts

Like humans, dogs are more likely to start to show signs of illness when they reach their senior years. Your pup may sleep more and play less and have more health issues.

Black and white picture of a dog lying on the floor with a carpet.

Knowing when your dog is considered a senior is an important part of pet parenting since it means that your older dog may need a little extra bit of support and assistance.

According to Dr. Dodman, the author of A Good Old Dog, of the 4 million dogs sent to shelters each year, one million of those are because they are just too old, a fact you likely find as appalling as I do.

Our dogs need us in their senior years so first steps first. How do we know if they are a senior dog, older dog or geriatric dog?

Determining the Human Age of Your Dog

The first step to determining the human age of your dog or as some refer to your dogs age in human years if you do not know it already is to consider the size of your dog. “The smaller dogs live longer, and very large dogs and large breeds, like a Great Dane live quite a short life span.” According to Dr. Dodson, if you take an older dog, you might want to multiply by 8 or so to come up with its human equivalent years and for small dogs — say between 10 or 15 pounds — that number drops to 6.

These calculations will have you arriving at the human equivalent which can be helpful to understand the challenges your dog may be facing.

Golden colored Sharpei sleeping on a red rug with a heart by his paw that says "I love you"
As your dog ages they will want to sleep more

So if you have a 10 pound Havanese that is 3 years of age in dog years she will be 60 in human years.

What Age is a Dog Considered a Senior?

There are many factors that dictate when a dog transitions from being an adult to being amongst senior pets set. The transition into a senior pet or geriatric pet varies greatly depending on your dog’s breed and size and overall health conditions. A very active or over weight dog that has had health issues will naturally progress and transition as an aging dog much faster.

Many dog owners average the age at which dogs become seniors at around 7 years old, but in reality this can change quite considerably from ages 5 to 12. In general, we expect that the ‘senior’ life stage is the last quarter to a third of a dog’s expected life span.

3 dogs on bar graphs showing various stages of life.

Breeds of Dogs that Age The Fastest

I love Great Danes, they wiggle into my heart like no other pet. However, after having several rescue Great Danes their shorter lifespan took a toll on me. It is just unfortunately plain and simple, certain dogs age faster than others. Dogs that age the fastest will be those with increased likelihood of medical issues as they age. Medical issues like kidney disease, heart disease, metabolic disorders but also those that are larger. Larger dogs’ bodies work harder causing them to age faster.

Accordingly, dog breeds like Great Danes, Wolfhounds, and Mastiffs will age the fastest due to their size alone.

Why Do Dogs Age Faster Than Humans?

Dogs age faster due to their different genetic make up than humans. Our dogs’ bodies actually have higher metabolisms and generally work harder than ours, say the experts at Cesar’s Way. Even their hearts beat more rapidly than a human’s heartbeat. All that extra work that their bodies do mean that their bodies will age and wear out much quicker than ours.

With proper dog diet and dog mental exercise and physical exercise, we can keep our dogs around for as long as their little lifespans will allow. And that’s really all we can aim for.

Elderly, Senior, and Geriatric Dogs: Is There a Difference?

If a dog is senior, it means that they are in the last third to quarter of their lifespan. Geriatric is sometimes used interchangeably with the term senior, but for veterinarians this tends to mean the very final stages of an elderly dog’s life.

The phrase “elderly” isn’t a term that vets use very often, just as doctors would not use it as often as geriatric or senior when referring to humans. This is likely due to its lake of specificity since elderly could mean a senior or geriatric dog, but usually refers to one that has some signs of age.

Of course, the saying goes that age is just a number. Many senior dog, like my own mixed breed senior dog Zooey has definite signs of aging and is certainly a senior but she does not know it (this is due to Relieve -Plus we speculate) she still skips along and hikes daily.

A dog that has age-related arthritis, is grey around the muzzle, has some behavioral changes associated with age and is missing a few teeth would likely be described as elderly.

Brown and black house lying in grass and eating grass.

How to Tell if Your Dog is a Senior

Since determining the age of your dog may not be an exact science unless you are lucky and get to celebrate their birthday every year. Knowing when a dog transitions into senior hood may vary knowing when your dog is truly a senior and needs some extra support may vary also.

Some signs that your dog has transitioned into being a senior dog include the following: you may notice signs of aging in your dog as they reach their senior years. Signs that your dog may be approaching the senior stage include:

  • Going gray around the muzzle
  • Stiffness, joint pain especially in the mornings (a sign of arthritis, and one that should not go ignored since there are many aids to alleviate this issue such as Relieve-Plus)
  • General slowing down
  • Impatience, especially with younger dogs
  • Grumpiness
  • Night time waking
  • Confusion
  • Vision loss or cloudy eyes
  • Dental disease
  • Weight gain
  • Cognitive Dysfunction (canine dementia)

Lastly, you may notice that all of these issues are apparent in a small way and increasing which in their aggregate are quite impactful. An aging dog may also exhibit common problems associated with aging including anxiety, interrupted sleeping patterns, unusual evening/night-time activity, and a loss of smell, more frequent urinary tract infections, gum disease or bad teeth in general.

Supporting Your Senior Dog as They Age

As your senior dog ages, they’re prone to many more diseases and conditions and their general comfort level will be reduced. It’s therefore important to keep a close eye on their health and behavior, as well as make some changes to help to keep them more comfortable and support them during the aging process.

Arthritis is a disease, and extremely prevalent in aging and senior dogs but remember there are plenty of safe and natural remedies that are very effective talk to your veterinarian about joint supplements or hemp products.

There is a growing body of science to support the effectiveness of hemp products to support your best friend with aging as we wrote about in our articles about Zooey’s New Lease on Life, newest research related to hemp and ways to support your arthritic dog including a study from Colorado State University which showed that hemp oil had a positive impact on aging dogs with arthritis.

In general there are multiple things you can do to support your senior dog which we talk more about in our article 10 Things Your Senior Dog Wished Your Knew, some additional ones include:

-Consider a ramp or stairs onto the sofa, bed, or into the car.

Black and white picture of a dog lying on the floor with a carpet.

-Just like people a hard surface is a killer. A comfortable memory foam mattress on the floor is also a good way to keep their joints cared for.

-Slippery floors may also be a problem for senior dogs—consider adding non-slip matts to wooden floors to help them get traction.

-Exercise. Although your dog may not be able to travel as far on walks physical activity is of utmost importance.

-Regular dental checks. Your dog’s teeth have been through a lot at this point.

-Keep Your dog’s brain active. Alzheimer’s disease or canine cognitive dysfunction is prevalent in older dogs. Try just like people. Teaching your senior dog new tricks, or remind them of some of the old ones they used to know. problem.

-Calorie intake. You may consider senior dog food as the answer to adjust your dogs food but as Dr. Dodson notes senior pet food is not regulated and may be inconsistent and not address the needs of senior pets such as the need for fewer calories so that your dog can stay at a healthy weight.

-Pay attention to heat and cold weather. A senior dog’s thermostat does not work the same as it once did.

Our dogs have loved and supported us through the ages and considering the best way to support them during their golden years is a true pleasure.

Senior Dog FAQs

Is a 6 year old dog a senior?

Certain dogs may be considered a senior dog at age 6 years old. Larger dogs age faster and therefore may be considered a senior at 6 years old. A senior is a dog that is in the last 1/3 of their lives.

What is a senior vs a geriatric dog?

A senior dog and a geriatric dog terms can be used interchangeably. A geriatric dog can sometimes be referred to as a dog that is older than a senior dog but generally senior dogs are those in the latter 1/3 of their lives.

Are senior dogs calm?

A senior dog is typically a lot calmer than younger dogs since it is older, has had more life experiences and has typically been socialized more, however, determining whether a dog is calm will depend on their age, breed, experience, and ultimate socialization that they have had.

Find more dog advice and fun stories in our popular book called Motherpuppin’ Adorable: What to do when your dog is better than everyone else’s the perfect companion for navigating the best life with your dog. Learn more about this loved book.