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By Aleza Freeman, Pet Lifestyle Contributor

Just like with humans, things change as dogs age, and it’s up to pet owners to recognize the warning signs in older pets. With the proper care, you can help your precious pup maintain a high quality of life well into his or her golden years.

We’ll get to some helpful tips for keeping your senior dog healthy below.

But first:

At what age does your dog go from being an adult to senior pet?

Dog Years: The age-old question

Getting older is a natural part of life. Unfortunately, our furry friends experience the aches and pains of aging a lot sooner than we do.

Many dogs are considered seniors around the age of 6 or 7, and it’s about this time that they begin to develop age-related health problems.

You’ve probably heard the term “dog years.” People tend to loosely equate one human year to seven dog years, but the actual age comparison between canines and humans is a bit more complicated.

A study published in The American Naturalist showed that large dogs age at an accelerated pace. So, a loyal mastiff has a shorter life expectancy than a toy poodle.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, seven years for a small or medium dog equates to about 44-47 human years. That estimate climbs to 50-56 human years for a large or extra large dog.

The Pet Health Network provides this handy chart for determining your dog’s age in human years.

Look for the warning signs

Unfortunately, senior dogs are more prone to developing a number of diseases as well as other mental and physical health issues. However, those symptoms aren’t always so obvious to dog owners.

 As a result, the American Animal Hospital Association suggests you visit the vet every six months with your senior dog.

Some symptoms your dog experiences are normal signs of aging. Others could be an indication of something more serious.

According to the AVMA, some warning signs of disease in senior pets include:

  • Kidney disease: Decreased appetite, increased thirst, increased urination, decreased or no urination, vomiting, weight loss and lethargy

  • Urinary tract disease: Increased urination, accidents in the house, straining to urinate, blood in urine and weakness

  • Heart disease: Coughing, difficulty breathing, decreased tolerance for exercise, decreased appetite and vomiting

The AVMA also warns that almost half of all dogs over the age of 10 will develop some form of cancer. But don’t jump to conclusions if you find a lump underneath your dog’s skin. This may be a harmless lipoma, which are common in older dogs. Be sure to visit your vet for proper diagnosis.

 5 Tips for keeping your senior dog healthy

Along with giving your dog lots of love and making regular visits to the vet, here are some other ways you help keep your canine counterpart comfortable.

  1. Consider Changing Your Dog’s Diet

    Diet is a weighty issue for your senior dog. They’re already more prone to health problems than younger dogs, and this risk increases if your pup is overweight.

    The ASPCA recommends a senior diet with high levels of antioxidants like Vitamin E and Beta-Carotene, a lower caloric density to keep your dog lean and a normal protein level to maintain muscle mass.

    On the other paw, dogs with trouble maintaining their weight may need dog food with a higher caloric intake. Tweaking your dog’s diet as he or she ages may help maintain a healthy weight and slow the development of chronic disease such as arthritis.

    To support your dog’s health beyond her daily chow, you might want to consider a supplement.

    We recommend a multifunctional health supplement like our SmartyPaws chews for senior dogs. They’re packed with premium ingredients to support good health from nose to tail - all in one convenient serving. 

  2. Be Consistent and compassionate

    Senior dogs often begin to lose some of their other senses like vision and hearing. It’s harder on them than you realize.

    Don’t get frustrated if your dog doesn’t answer when you call or growls when approached. It’s possible he or she can’t hear or see you.

    Common signs of vision problems include:

    • Bumping into things
    • Cloudiness in the eye
    • Falling Signs of eye discomfort


    Common signs of hearing loss are:

    • Not coming when the food can or bag is opened
    • Not greeting you when you come home
    • Less responsive to your commands
    • Easily startled, possibly aggressive

    A dog who is losing his or her hearing or vision will benefit from consistency at home. Now is not the time to go on a massive redecorating spree or move the dog dish and bed.

    If you do end up moving furniture around, make an extra point to acclimate your canine companion to the changes. While some hearing and vision loss is a natural part of aging, your vet will be able to determine if the issue is more serious.

  3. Watch for Behavioral Changes

    Dogs don’t show pain the way humans do. Sometimes the only indication that something is wrong is a slight change in behavior. These can be as simple as a change in their sleeping pattern to a potty accident inside the home.

    Other behavior changes to look out for include:

    • Increased vocalization
    • Increased reaction to sounds
    • Confusion
    • Disorientation
    • Increased aggression
    • Increased irritability
    • Decreased self-hygiene and grooming
    • Anti-social behavior

    Studies show that older dogs may experience brain changes a lot like the ones seen in humans suffering from Alzheimer’s as well as other learning and memory problems. Your vet will be able to determine if these changes are a sign of a disease or if your dog is experiencing cognitive dysfunction.

  4. Don’t disregard dental care

    Ah, dog breath... Does it seem like it’s gotten worse? An aging dog may be prone to tooth decay and infected gums, especially if you’ve been lax in brushing her teeth or getting a professional cleaning. Teeth and gum problems can be uncomfortable and make it difficult to eat. They can also lead to more serious infections.

    Signs of oral and dental disease include:

    • Bad breath
    • Excessive drooling
    • Gum inflammation
    • Loose teeth

    While we’re on the topic of hygiene, we also recommend that you keep up with their grooming by regularly brushing your dog at home. It helps maintain good skin and coat health and provides you with another excuse to get in some quality bonding time with your fur baby.

  5. Stay hip to good health

    Hip and joint health is another concern for senior pet owners. Studies show that 80% of all dogs older than seven years suffer from stiff and achy joints.

    That’s because as dogs age, the cartilage and fluids protecting their bones break down, which can lead to irritation, inflammation and pain.

    To help minimize discomfort keep an eye out for any of these common symptoms:

    • Difficulty trying to sit down or stand up
    • Struggling to jump into the car
    • Limping Favoring a leg
    • Lifting a limb in the air
    • Swollen joints
    • An audible popping or cracking in the hips

    Some of these symptoms are a natural part of growing and aging, but we recommend going to see a vet if you have any concerns.

Now, some good news

Dogs are an integral part of our lives, and we understand if you don’t want to think about your best mate getting older. However, dogs are living longer than ever before thanks to science and loving pet owners like you.

With proper care, you can help your furry bestie stay happy and healthy for many years to come.

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