Like people, not all dogs age equally or are considered “seniors” at the same time. But, a good rule of thumb, besides addressing any concerns with your vet, of course, is to start looking for signs of your four-legged-friend aging at around 7 years old. This article, by About.com Guide, Janet Tobiassen Crosby, DVM, tells us what changes to expect as your dog gets older.
- Slowing down– You may notice that you dog slows down some with aging. This isn’t always the case, but look for subtle changes in how s/he gets up, lays down, and uses stairs. Is there any hesitation or stiffness? Does a change in the weather (rainy, cold) make it worse?Arthritis is common in dogs as they age, particularly large breeds. Arthritis can occur in any joint, most commonly the legs, neck and back (spine). There are many different medications available to help ease the discomfort of arthritis — see your vet if you notice any signs of slowing down in your dog. Another potential cause of slowing down is hypothyroidism, an endocrine disorder common in dogs. This condition is easily diagnosed and treated with proper veterinary care.
- Graying around the face, muzzle – One of my dogs went prematurely gray at two years of age, but most dogs commonly show a bit of gray starting at middle age (5-6 years).
- Reduced hearing– Is your dog hard to wake up after sleeping or does s/he become startled easily if you approach from behind? Hearing loss or deafness may be a reason for this. There isn’t a lot that can be done for age-related hearing loss, but a vet exam should be done first to rule out other medical problems, such as an infection, growth, or foreign body in the ear.If your dog does experience hearing loss, take care to protect him/her from hazards, such as cars and kids that s/he may not hear (or see). Dogs do learn and adapt well using hand signals to come, stay, sit, and so on. It is a good idea to “cross train” your dog early in life to recognize basic hand signals.
- Cloudy or “bluish” eyes – As they age, dog’s eyes often show a bluish transparent “haze” in the pupil area. This is a normal effect of aging, and the medical term for this is lenticular sclerosis. Vision does not appear to be affected. This is NOT the same as cataracts. Cataracts are white and opaque. Vision can be affected by cataracts, and your vet needs to be consulted (see “when is it time to see the vet?” below).
- Muscle atrophy – Mild loss of muscle mass, especially the hind legs, may be seen with old age. Some muscle atrophy, notably on the head and the belly muscles, can signify diseases such as masticatory myositis and Cushing’s Disease. Be sure to have your vet check this out if any muscle loss is noted.
Being mindful of your dog’s general health as he ages, and knowing what to expect as your dog gets older, will ensure a high quality of life for you both. Feel free to visit the rest of About.com’s article here, and we’d love to hear your own stories about your aging dog below!