One day you’ll notice some gray hairs on your dog’s muzzle or around his eyes. About the same time you might see that he isn’t as quick to fetch a stick or to dash out after that squirrel crossing the yard. Just like you, he’s aging.

It’s always a good time  to learn how to care for your senior dog. Aging dogs aren’t very different from aging people. They begin to get gray hair; some won’t see or hear as well as they once did; others might develop arthritis, diabetes, or heart disease. And just like you, your senior dog needs a proper diet, exercise, and regular medical care to age gracefully.

But when does a dog become a senior? It probably doesn’t seem long ago that he was a feisty puppy whose sturdy little legs were so short that the grass in your yard tickled his belly. Dogs age faster than humans, and large dogs faster than small ones. Your dog’s size generally determines when he is considered a senior. The ASPCA recommends that you begin feeding your dog a senior formulated dog food based on his size by the following schedule:

  • Small breeds (dogs weighing less than 20 pounds)—7 years of age
  • Medium breeds (dogs weighing 21 to 50 pounds)—7 years of age
  • Large breeds (dogs weighing 51 to 90 pounds)—6 years of age
  • Giant breeds (dogs weighing 91 pounds or more)—5 years of age

It is important to feed him a good quality dog food that, though lower in calories, doesn’t reduce the amount of protein. Your vet can recommend a food that is right for your dog.

Though your pooch might not be as energetic as he once was it’s important that he get regular exercise. Exercise will help him maintain his weight and slow the effects of aging. Even as he slows down, continue daily walks and games such as fetch or tug-of-war, though as time passes the intensity of the exercise should be moderated. Interaction with other dogs at dog parks or arranged play dates will also encourage him to keep moving.

Dental care is important for all dogs, but increases in importance as your pet ages. Brushing his teeth regularly and having them professionally cleaned at least once a year  or whenever your vet advises can help to prevent periodontal disease, which contributes to many serious health problems, even heart disease.

Consider changing your dog’s annual visits to the veterinarian to semi-annual. Also watch for changes in his coat or habits such as eating, drinking, urinating, and responding to the environment. See your vet promptly when you notice rapid changes as they could be signs of illness.

Provide physical accommodations as your dog needs them—a soft bed for an arthritic dog, and a ramp or stairs to help him into the car. Rugs can help him to navigate on a slippery floor.

Most importantly, enjoy your dog and the bond that you have formed with him over the years. Make him as much a part of your life as you are able. Continue to take him with you as you did when he was younger. Both his mind and his body will benefit from interaction within family and others, and you will continue to benefit from the companionship and love of your faithful friend.