What defines old age? Who’s to say, since we’ve all probably witnessed uprights in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s who act like they’re ancient, moaning about aches and pains. We have also seen folks in their 60’s, 70’s, even 80’s who enjoy life to its fullest and seem years younger than their chronological number suggests. So what gives?
I’m not sure what exactly defines old age, goodness knows there are days when I think I’m still in my 30’s and then other days when I instead
realize I’m egad! middle-aged but have been accused of not acting my age and suspect it’s a lot like pornography-you just know it when you see it.
But I think we all agree we’d love for our fur-babies to be aging with us much longer than they do. But what constitutes old age in dogs? According to this chart from the AKC, it’s not that old 1 to 7 ratio we heard growing up. In other words…it depends.
When Sam turned 11 last year, I started to wonder when I’d begin to notice signs of him reaching the infamous ‘senior years.’ He was barely beginning to walk slower, somewhat of a sign but his penchant for jumping up on furniture and the pogo-sticking leaps when greeting me hadn’t seen much diminishing. Enter the Ninja. I’m not sure if Elsa’s presence has lifted the little man’s spirits but on a regular and daily basis I see HIM engage her after months of avoiding her play invites. He seems genuinely younger at heart and now initiates the roughhousing just long enough for me to try to reach for the camera to document but then of course, they stop. I’m sure he just doesn’t want any photographic proof since he rather seems keen on feigning self-righteous indignation at the mere thought of his engaging with his sister.
So what are some of the obvious signs of a dog reaching the senior years? Well, for starters, the eyes provide clues (as do a number of other indicators).
- Cloudy eyes. Sam’s eyes are ‘mostly’ clear, although one is a teensy-weensey bit cloudy. As dogs age, the lens hardens and may appear cloudy or blueish. Vision is not generally compromised but a vet should check for an accurate diagnosis.
- Cataracts. On the other hand, this condition can pose vision issues for your pup. Characterized by a whitish appearance and cataracts prevent light from passing through the lens. It should be noted that cataracts are not limited to older dogs and can be discovered in younger pups.
- Glaucoma. The eye’s liquid doesn’t drain properly causing pressure to build up, damaging the internal structure of the eye. Eventual blindness may result and needs treatment by your vet.
- Ears. Losing one’s hearing as one gets older is not news (dang that loud music I listened to in my youth). Part of the natural aging process is hearing loss. If your pup doesn’t response to commands, he could be losing his sense of hearing or, he could just be stubborn like a certain Poodle I know. My Old English Sheepdog, Eliot was deaf his last few years but managed to motor around fine. In his case, it was almost a bonus since he stopped barking at every one who walked past the house. The downside was extreme startling so care had to be taken to avoid ‘freak-out’ mode.
- Teeth. Dental care is critical for good health throughout their lives. One clear sign of periodontal disease is bad breath and without treatment, can lead to pain and bone loss. Left untreated periodontal disease may contribute to heart, kidney, and liver disease, just like with us peeps. Bottom line, brush and floss, kids. For both the 2 and 4-legged.
- Joints. I can certainly attest to this one. The older I get, the more creaky my own joints get. With all the pogo-sticking Sam has done over the years, it’s a wonder he hasn’t displayed any obvious pain. Dogs tend to mask pain so it’s critical to watch for signs like a gimpy gait. More naps and less movement are a clue that moving around might be somewhat painful. Check with your vet for medication that might reduce any joint inflammation.
- Urinary incontinence. This is more often associated with spayed females and Sam seems to write plenty of pee-mails though no more so than usual. He is a consummate marker.
- Digestion. Next to sexual encounters, digestion uses the most energy in any organism’s life. Any change in bowel movements, excessive gas or vomiting must be adequately addressed. Sam has long been prone to bouts of colitis over the years so a high quality diet along with pumpkin with his morning meal helps keep the digestion well balanced.
- Weakened immunity. As dogs and their uprights age, the immune system may begin to lag. Mental and physical stimulation helps keep the immunity strong. Vaccines or titer tests are even more impawtant with senior dogs.
- Cancer and/or heart diseases. Obviously any unexplained weight loss, decreased appetite, obvious pain, lumps, bumps etc. should all be carefully monitored in the senior dog. Unexplained coughing, blueish gums, edema, weight gain, restlessness are clues that should be followed up with your vet.
- Behavioral changes. Circulatory or neurological changes can be valuable indicators. My Eliot, mentioned earlier, lived to the rip old age of at least 13 (he was a rescue so hard to quantify with certainty). He suffered from dog dementia in the end which was heartbreaking, but his last years were filled with good vet care, loads of love and special attention to accommodate his age-related infirmities and I tried to make those last 3 years as comfortable as possible.
Two of the best influencers to abate the aging process are exercise and weight-control which is why I think Sam is so youthful looking and acting. Those twice daily walks provide exercise for both the mind and the waistline to keep him in top shape to do what he does best, make everyone he encounters smile. Regular semi-annual wellness trips will likewise keep Sam in tip-top shape.
Generally speaking you can pretty much figure a dog reaching 9 or 10 is a senior. But that label occupies a lot of nebulous territory. It doesn’t mean their lives are over, it just means we take extra care of their various ailments and rub those sweet white muzzles tenderly (or in Sam’s case, soul patch), smiling at their sweet faces. Speaking of sweet, the ‘kids’ are roughhousing, so I’m gonna try to see if I can capture their fun. Wish me luck, with those two, I’m gonna need it.
What age do you think constitutes ‘old?’
Live, love, bark! ❤︎