There is something so gratifying about sharing a life with an aging dog. Grey muzzles, as I like to call them, have special gifts to offer their human friends—like wisdom, patience, tolerance, and unconditional love.
With the privilege of sharing time with an aging dog comes the special task of caring for these furry angels, helping them live long and live well. Recognizing dog behavior changes that come with age can help you adjust your lifestyle, home, and care routines to give your senior dog the best life possible.
Understanding Aging in Dogs
First, it is important to debunk a very common myth: 7 human years do NOT equal one dog year. While dogs do age faster than humans because their metabolism is faster than humans, a 10 year old dog is not necessarily the equivalent of a 70 year old human.
Dogs reach maturity faster, and become the equivalent of a 15-20 year old human by the end of their first year, depending on their size, and then their aging process slows down. Dog cells turn over faster, and their genetic programming causes them to age faster than humans, which is why they don’t last quite as long as we do.
How fast dogs age is dependent on what size and breed they are. Small breed dogs tend to reach maturity faster and live longer, large and giant breeds take longer to reach maturity (it is just more body to grow) and they do not live as long as small breed dogs.
When it comes to signs of aging, senior dogs age almost exactly the same way humans do. Their joints ache the same way ours do, they develop hip problems, their bones thin out, their muscle mass decreases, their digestive tracts lose efficiency in digestion, they develop hormonal disorders, and they definitely can develop dementia.
Dog Behavior Changes That Come With Aging
Even though dogs age the same way we do, we may not recognize the signs that our dog is getting older, and may need some additional support. Senior dog behavior changes can provide subtle clues that tell us our friend needs help. These are ones to watch for.
Sleeping More and Decreased Energy
One of most common signs of advanced age in dogs is excessive tiredness. This results in your dog sleeping more than average, lagging behind on walks, or losing interest in activities that used to thrill him, like fetch or tug.
Several medical conditions seen in older pets, including hypothyroidism and heart disease, can cause a dog to be more tired than usual. Osteoarthritis can also put a hitch in your dog’s giddy-up, and cause your dog to slow down and play less just because it hurts too much.
As a dog ages, it can be harder for that dog to maintain lean muscle mass. We know that in humans, muscle mass starts declining after age 30, and the same happens in our aging dogs. Dogs can also lose weight due to any number of medical conditions that are commonly seen in older dogs, including cancer, kidney or liver disease, or diabetes.
Sudden Personality Changes
Dogs may get more grouchy as they get older because of a number of reasons. Pain is a very common reason for increased irritation in older dogs—they don’t want to be touched because it just hurts. Dementia can also cause dogs to be more irritable because they are confused about what is going on. Dementia can also cause dog pacing at night, panting and whining, and just strange behavior, like staring or barking at walls. Senior dog anxiety at night is also a common sign reported by dog lovers.
Trouble Getting Around
Osteoarthritis is very common in older dogs. Approximately 20 percent of dogs over the age of 1 in North America have arthritis, and the incidence is much higher in older and bigger dogs.
Signs of osteoarthritis in older dogs can include difficulty or reluctance to climb stairs or jump into the car, lagging behind on walks, decreased interest in play, sleeping more, difficulty getting up, and difficulty sleeping.
Loss of Potty Training
Urinating or defecating in the house in a previously house trained dog could be one of the dog behavior changes that signifies aging. Just like humans, dogs can lose tone in the muscles that control urination and defecation as they age. Or they can be confused from dementia and not know they are going potty in the house.
A medical condition like Cushing’s disease or kidney disease can also cause dogs to have to go more often, leading to household accidents. If you notice this problem, talk to your vet about solutions.
How to Help Your Dog Age Better
There are many ways to help your dog age better and potentially even avoid disease! Here are some easy-to-follow tips for helping your dog feel better during his or her golden years:
Maintain a Healthy Diet
One of the most important things you can do is make sure your dog is supported with high quality nutrition. If you feed your dog the right amount of good food, keep your dog at an ideal body weight (not sure, ask your vet!), then you will prevent many diseases (and save a bunch of money on vet bills)
When it comes to nutrition, it is virtually impossible to get every macro and micronutrient that a dog needs into every kibble. Furthermore, older dogs may have decreased digestive capabilities, and may not be absorbing everything they need from their food. Giving your older dog a good quality nutritional supplement is a great idea to ensure complete nutrition.
Explore Joint Supplements
If your dog is slowing down or showing signs of joint pain, using a veterinarian-formulated joint supplement can help slow down joint disease and reduce inflammation. Make sure to discuss the best options for your dog and lifestyle by speaking to your veterinarian.
Keep Your Dog Busy
Keep your dog active, both mentally and physically. Play with and exercise your dog every day. Give your dog food puzzles to solve, and train your dog in new behaviors. This will benefit your dog’s cardiovascular disease, hormones, musculoskeletal system, cognition, general happiness, and more.
Consider An Orthopedic Bed
Older dogs often have achy joints and bodies that need extra rest. Furthermore, they may not be sleeping as well because they are sore. Providing your dog with a high quality orthopedic dog bed has been shown to improve the lives of older and support your dog’s overall health and wellness.
While aging is a foregone conclusion, decreased vitality and wellness in you or your dog’s advanced years is not. With proper attention and care and a little advanced planning, your grey muzzle can live well into their golden years and beyond.