If a dog is rounding the corner at 6 years of age, they may now be considered a senior (depending on the breed).

VCA, with over 750 hospitals and 4700+ Primary Care Veterinarians explains it this way:

  • “Pets age at a faster rate than people. It is a popular misconception that one calendar year equates to seven years in a dog’s life. In actual fact, in one calendar year a dog may age the equivalent of four to fifteen years in a human’s life. The reason for this dramatic difference is that puppies reach maturity very quickly and are essentially adolescents or young adults by a year of age – thus they are considered to be the equivalent of a 15-year-old by their first birthday. During the second year, the rate of aging slows down a little so that the average dog is considered to be the equivalent of a 24–25-year-old by their second birthday. After that, the rate of aging is estimated to be 4-5 dog years per calendar year, depending on the size and breed. Large breed dogs age relatively more quickly than small breed dogs. By the time your dog reaches its 6th birthday, it will be either middle-aged (if a small or medium breed dog) or geriatric (if a large breed dog).”

Veterinary well exams once per year, if not semi-annually for seniors is highly recommended. A well exam is more comprehensive than a typical visit. Sadly, this is often overlooked by pet parents.

A wellness examination is a complete physical assessment with diagnostic testing that may include blood work, x-rays, urinalysis, and checking a stool sample for parasites. Special equipment is used to listen to heart and lungs, examine ears and eyes and check vital signs. Blood tests may include a complete blood cell count and chemistry panels to test for possible anemia, infection or organ disease. Blood chemistry tests are critical to evaluate how a dog’s body organs are functioning. Early detection of an underlying condition will add years to a dog’s life.

Caring for senior dogs

It’s important to carefully monitor a senior dog’s health, keep him active and mentally stimulated, and institute appropriate dietary adjustments as he ages. Many senior dog conditions can be mitigated by simple dietary changes, including joint supplements. A pet insurance plan should also be considered as part of a pet’s wellness program, for all of their life stages. A senior well exam is more important than maintaining vaccinations.

Some vaccinations may be unnecessary for a senior dog. Recommend that your clients talk to their veterinarian about the necessity of Parvo/Distemper shots past the age of 10. Many holistic practitioners believe a dog is sufficiently immune to the risk of Parvo/Distemper so may not be necessary later in life.

Additionally, after the age of 2, these same vaccinations can be administered every 3 years (vs. annually). Consider the suggestion from the American Veterinary Medical Association:

“Many vaccinations provide adequate immunity when administered every few years, while others require more frequent schedules to                        maintain an acceptable level of immunity that will continually protect your pet”.

An example of more frequent and optional vaccinations might include Bordetella and/or Leptospirosis. For active dogs that frequent dog parks or doggie daycares, Bordetella is necessary. For those who may be exposed to wetlands, forests, soggy golf courses or anywhere a disease-carrying animal might infect water sources, Leptospirosis is recommended. These 2 vaccinations are considered “lifestyle” vaccinations and specific to a dog’s exposure to other dogs and unique terrain.

Dogs with suppressed immune systems or existing health conditions require case-by-case consideration, wherein some or all vaccinations could be more harmful than beneficial.

Early diagnosis of potential health conditions will make the difference in adding years to a dog’s life. It’s easy to miss the subtle signs of “senioritis” until symptoms present which sometimes require an unplanned, emergency vet visit. Dogs are very good at masking their pain. If you notice unusual vocalization, excessive panting, atypical pacing, disorientation, body tremors, lethargy or inability to get comfortable or rest peacefully, that dog is telling you something. If the vocalization becomes a pronounced and extended howl, we’re talking serious pain now.

Decreased eyesight and hearing is a natural aging condition for many dogs, along with newly developed lumps and bumps that are most likely benign; yet should be analyzed by a vet.

Compromised mobility is common in seniors. If a dog isn’t climbing the stairs, walking as far, has trouble getting up or down or slips on slick floor surfaces, anti-inflammatories and/or joint supplements can help, if not adding a few rugs and soft pet beds on hard-floor surfaces to help their navigation and comfort.

CBD for pets is also gaining popularity in providing relief for older dogs with stiff joints, periodic lameness, inflammation and arthritis. CBD is also being used as an alternative supplement for pets with pain and anxiety.

Exercise is still important for a senior dog, however moderated for his ability. This helps maintain a healthy body weight as overweight dogs suffer from a number of health problems. It’s much easier walking a senior dog than an exuberant puppy still in the leash-training stage!

PET PRO TIP: You want to develop a meaningful relationship with local vets. They are not only a dog’s “other partner” they are great referral sources for your business. Share these “senior dog care” tips with your clients to reinforce your professionalism and thoughtfulness.


Senior dog care for pet sitters

Your Pet Pro Team @ AoPP