That age old question…

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.

How old is old?

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.

Who you calling old?

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! ❤︎

59 thoughts on “That age old question…

  1. I don’t think age is a number as much as it is an attitude. At least, that is what I am hoping for myself. That exercise and weight management goes for us humans too. It’s just harder to do when we are in control of our own food. We’d probably do better if we had someone control our portions for us like we do for our furbabies.

  2. There are times when I think Sampson is losing his hearing, and then other times when I suspect it’s selective.

    Knowing what to watch for is key. If you notice anything different, it doesn’t hurt to have it checked. While some things are inevitable, there are others (such as the glaucoma) that might be delayed or slowed, by treatments.

  3. My Ottie is a miraculous 14 – ancient in boxer’s years. His joints are problematic – even on meds, he still works around the effort it takes to do certain things, but is still active. Lately, his hearing has been funny – he can hear less but also has trouble figuring out where sounds come from. I have noticed he looks to me and Portia for cues at times. But he is as enthusiastic as ever and an amazing aging example to me.

  4. I agree with you about what constitutes “old” Monika. Heaven forbid anyone calling Lexi old to her face. She would bark at them. No kidding. She would, however, accept the label “Mature.” Usually, the better care they get, the longer they live, but there are always disease processes we can’t control. Good post.

    1. Many thanks for the kind words, Amy. Good care and good genetics can make all the difference in the world. I love that Lexi objected to being called old. Why am I not surprised. 😍

  5. Ms. Zulu will be 12 in August and we can now see signs of aging. Her reflexes are just not the same as they used to be. Her spirit has been lifted by Benji as well and she plays more since Benji arrived.

          1. Taking in shelter dogs with a number of “issues” I have expanded my comfort zone many times : ) and still would do it again over and over.

  6. I don’t like to admit that Bentley is officially a senior but at 9 years old, he is getting white on his snout. Of course, as long as he is healthy and happy, so am I. ♥

    1. Thanks. It’s hard to think about when they’re not quite as youthful as when they entered our lives. Everyday is a blessing with these special creatures who give so much and ask so little.

  7. Great post Monika. Thanks for all these important reminders about our senior or close to senior pets. Like Sam, KalI has also began initiating some play with puppy-sister Kloe. I think she’s learned the best defense can be a good offense. Part of this is her hips too. We’ve had her on a treatment of Giliprant and Adequan for the pas six weeks and wow- what a difference. It’s great to see her running and frolicking like a youngster. Albeit for short bursts but as you suggest we need to pay attention to our older pups body language to tell us what they need. I know Kali has appreciated that and I’m sure 11 year old pogo stick Sam does too. Take care and thanx for this informative post.

  8. Some youngsters can be unhealthy and some retain their health into old age. Health and attitude are far more important than actual age..

  9. Choppy is 8.5 (or so we think). You can sometimes see that she is a little stiff when she gets up, and her eyes are starting to get cloudy, but she still has plenty of energy – and she looks better now (thanks to all the walking) than she has in several years.

  10. Hazel is 12 and Mabel (2) really does help keep her young as they play a few times a day.
    But our Bailey is struggling with getting around at 14
    Mr Bailey Hazel & Mabel

  11. I was just thinking about this topic. Piper is only seven but she is an old seven. And even though Jack is the old man of the pack, once I brought Leo home, he perked right up. He just had some teeth pulled and is even more rambunctious lately. All kinds of shenanigans with those two while Piper attempts to maintain a dignified distance. And often fails. Sounds kind of like Sam and the ninja.

  12. My Mom always said “age is a state of mind” and “you’re only as old as you feel”; so to me a number is meaningless. When we adopted Ducky in 2012, Callie and Shadow were 8 and 7-1/2 but sometimes acted more like little old ladies. Adding Ducky to the family perked them both up – they had no choice because she was such a nudge – and until Callie’s cancer diagnosis, they were both acting like young adults again. Shadow has her rough days without Callie but for the most part she doesn’t act like you would expect from an almost 13-year-old dog.

  13. this was a great post and I envy the “realist” that you are. Dakota is 10 and I do my best not to think about it. I know I am awful but that is what I do 🙁

  14. Do you know the Twilight home in France? They take elderly needy dogs in to give them their last few years or months in a home environment…and it is surprsing how some of these dogs seem to get a new lease of life with love, proper food and care.
    They are on FB if you´d care to take a look.
    Age? Mother was 100 years old last August, still cooking and messing about in the house, though she doesn´t go out alone now…beats the two of us into a cocked hat.

    1. Holy cow? 100??!! That’s fabulous! I’ll definitely be checking out the Twilight Home in France. Thanks. Love any organization that sees their way to helping out senior pups. 😍

      1. Run by a husband and wife…not too young themselves and he is not in good health…who love these old ladies and gentlemen. They have dedicated back up people, all volunteers, but the whole thing depends on them.

  15. HA! I always thought my Dad defined old age, oops! Sam looks terrific! I’ll be 10 soon and so far, so good. Thanks for joining the Thankful Thursday Blog Hop!

  16. Liam the pug is definitely a senior in my eyes, based on his overall health and zest. He’s losing his hearing, his eyes are a touch cloudy and he limps during those first 5 steps of the day. He’s about to turn 10, and I am working with his vet to treat all of these various health problems. But I can see him rounding the corner into senior life. Even so, he remains a happy and joyful little creature. And that’s what really matters.

    Jean from Welcome to the Menagerie

  17. My grandmother is 79 years old and she still works full time, mows her yard (she has a lot of land) and still does all her painting of her house, moving around of her furniture, etc. She says she feels a lot younger and she thinks that’s because she’s around young people all day and they just make her feel younger. Age is just a #!

  18. I think it really depends. My parents 8 year old lab has bad arthritis and she seems old. Hailey is 7 and a half and our vet said he couldn’t consider her a senior until she is at least 10. Then he will see. Phod, as a Shepherd will be old sooner I fear.

    1. Exactly, it seems like aging is a relative thing. Some older pets seem young and other younger ones seem older. The common denominator is we all fear our pups getting old. ❤︎

  19. Generally speaking, the saller the dog, the older they have to be to be called a senior. My Onyx, at 27 lbs, was not a senior until 8. Unfortunately dogs can’t tell you when they are sick. He had cancer, and had to be put to sleep last month. He had just started acting old, although he still loved his walks. Getting another dog (or cat) can bring out the youngster, as long as they are compatible. I have a geriatric cat, 20 going on 21. He no longer defends the property and his cat friends (fortunately, as he has no teeth), but he acts like he is going to live forever–don’t I wish.

  20. great post. I remember seeing each of those signs showing up in Cole. Like us it doesn’t stop us. Another one was sleep. As Cole lost hearing he slept a LOT the last year.

    1. The signs of aging generally show up gradually and then all of a sudden, you realize, your dog is ‘old.’ I think that’s why vets suggest twice annual wellness visits per year to keep things manageable. *Sigh* Too bad they can’t live fur-ever.

  21. I wish you all the luck of slice earth and the univery, of course!!! we were asked by the vet if we feed senior food now as Easy was 7…. and I was too old for helping out at a sport stuff fair as I was…. 31…arrgh!

    1. All the food served to the old dogs was such high quality, we were able to continue it till they passed over the bridge since they were in good shape for the most part. Certain breeds do better on age-specific food forumulas, especially those breeds who are more susceptible to bloat.

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