When Does A Dog Become A Senior?

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I just came back from dropping Cow off at the vet for her first ever dental appointment. I couldn’t help but feel a bit misty as the tech took her leash and walked her to the back, saying, “Let’s go for a walk!”

And she’s going to be fine. We’re not expected to need any extractions, just a Grade 2 cleaning. She hasn’t been under anesthetic since she was spayed at about a year old. They’re going to do bloodwork first, though, so I really have nothing to worry about.

But I can’t help but think about our eventual, final vet visit. I think it’s the best way to go – peacefully in their sleep in the arms of someone who loves them.

I’m sorry. I’m so dramatic.

Both Matilda and Cow are seven years old, and they were born around April or May so they’re nearly eight.

Last year, when Matilda had her dental, I was surprised to see the bill say that she had a “senior blood panel,” not just regular bloodwork.

I don’t know if my dogs are seniors yet, but I am taking early health precautions to help prepare for when they are truly, undeniably old.

When Does A Dog Become A Senior Dog?

A small dog becomes a senior at around age 10, while a larger dog can be considered a senior as young as age 5. The bigger the dog, the faster they age.

But when it comes to Matilda and Cow, it feels different. Matilda started to go grey around her muzzle at just four years old, but she’s a barely five pound Chihuahua mix, so most wouldn’t consider her a senior yet, even though she has many white hairs now.

Cow’s coloring doesn’t seem like it’s going to change, at least for now, but since she’s bigger at about 30 pounds, she may be experiencing inward signs of aging, even if she seems young in every other way.

When Do You Start Feeding A Senior Dog Food?

Senior dog food is usually high in lean protein to combat muscle loss that comes with aging. It’s low in fat to help manage weight gain. And it might contain anti-aging ingredients like glucosamine, MSM, and chondroitin, which are amino acids that make up your dog’s joint tissue. Those nutrients are linked to slowing the progression of arthritis, which most dogs will eventually get at some point.

The food might also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help with joint inflammation, cognitive health (dogs get dementia too!) and eye and heart health.

The thing about all of those ingredients is that they’re good for dogs of any age. Athletic dogs or any dogs that are prone to injuries might heal faster when they take joint supplements.

Cow suffers from pancreatitis attacks (which manifests as extreme diarrhea) if her food contains more than 12% fat. So, we feed senior weight management kibble most of the time, topped with lean, fresh options like chicken, eggs, or sardines. Her gastric system is so delicate, though, that if I don’t drain the fat from homemade boiled chicken breast, she’ll have a flare-up. So fresh food is difficult right now.

As for Matilda, when she gets her own bag of kibble it will take her months to finish it, so on busy days she’ll get the same, but she gets fresher foods like Honest Kitchen, home-cooked proteins, or a raw chicken neck from time to time.

In short, starting on a senior food too early shouldn’t be a problem, but you should ask your vet to make sure it’s okay. Senior joint supplements can also be started early. You do not have to wait until your dog starts to show any signs of slowing down.

How Long Is A Dog’s Senior Phase?

With any luck, my dogs will live to see their quinceañera (a coming of age celebration of a young girls 15th birthday) and if they live longer than that, we’ll throw a Sweet 16 too.

Maybe they’ll see 18. Or 20. Or 21.

I’ve noticed that sometimes, the least cared-for dogs will live to be ancient. Toothless, living outside, never seen a vet, ridden with parasites, but hanging in there at like thirty years old.

And then the best-cared for dogs aren’t always so lucky.

But let’s say Matilda lives to be 20, for example. If she’s a senior now, she’ll have spent 13 years as an old lady.

For humans, you’re a senior at, say, 60, and our average global lifespan is around 72, but you can make it to 90 or so. In that case, you’ll still spend just 1/3 of your life as an “old person.”

I don’t know what to think. We don’t know how much time we have left. And that goes for everyone, all the time.

So don’t forget to hug and kiss everyone you love today, four-legged or otherwise.

Lindsay Pevny
Lindsay Pevny lives to help pet parents make the very best choices for their pets by providing actionable, science-based training and care tips and insightful pet product reviews.

She also uses her pet copywriting business to make sure the best pet products and services get found online through catchy copy and fun, informative blog posts. She also provides product description writing services for ecommerce companies.

As a dog mom to Matilda and Cow, she spends most of her days taking long walks and practicing new tricks, and most nights trying to make the best of a very modest portion of her bed.

You’ll also find her baking bread and making homemade pizza, laughing, painting and shopping.

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