Life Stages of a Dog – Part 3

Continuing on from yesterday’s post about Adolescence in dogs, here’s what Adulthood is like for dogs, and Old Age. From my Diploma in Canine Psychology course with The ISCP:

Adulthood in dogs is not measured strictly by months or years, but by the maturity of the dog’s mental capabilities. Smaller breeds reach maturity earlier than larger breeds. For example, a 1 year-old Papillon may have the same mental maturity as a 3 year-old Labrador. During this stage, the dog visibly calms down, becomes less rebellious and seems to settle down. Some people have described it as “She was a holy terror right up to the age of 18 months, and then suddenly overnight she turned into the Perfect Dog”. I have seen dogs surrendered to the Refuge at this stage, when with just a few more months of perseverance and patience, and if they had not given up so early, that Change could have happened and the owners would have had their Perfect Dog.

Old Age in dogs depends on their breed. Some breeds, especially the larger ones, have shorter lifespans than others. For example, Great Danes only live up to 8 or 9 years compared to Jack Russell Terriers that may live 18-20 years. Larger breeds have longer puppy and adolescent periods, so their Adulthood and Old Age are shorter. Smaller breeds mature faster, and remain as Adults for a longer time. Dog owners need to realise that not all dogs are the same, that some dogs mature faster than others, and that some dogs will die earlier than others, and some are more prone to certain illnesses than others.

With old age comes a plethora of medical problems. Some dogs develop kidney disease, or may need a special diet to maintain their ongoing health and vitality. Large breeds may suffer from heart failure. Some dogs get arthritis in their joints, which makes walking around painful. Sometimes the dog is in such pain that it cannot help but nip at its carer when it’s had enough. Glucosamine and Chondroitin are often used to help ease joint pain in dogs. Regular cod liver oil works too. There are also special foods available that claim to help older dogs maintain their health and possibly prolong their lives. Cancer and tumours can affect dogs at any stage of their lives, but the dog’s ability to fight this declines as it gets older and frailer.

Aside from physical aches and pains that come with old age, elderly dogs can also suffer from mental decline. Some dogs can suffer from dementia, obsessive compulsive behaviours, or a sudden marked change in temperament and behaviour. A previously sweet and affectionate dog may suddenly turn aggressive, or become afraid of certain things, people or stimuli. It may become forgetful, or have flashes of just “not being there” when called. Elderly dogs may also become incontinent, when their muscles lose their elasticity and tone. It is imperative that at this stage the owners do not panic or rush to put the dog to sleep, as with proper veterinary help and ongoing care the dog could still enjoy many years of living life to the full.

Elderly dogs deserve to be made as comfortable as possible, to be surrounded by familiar objects and people that they love, to be made to feel appreciated and needed as they were before they became old. Owners need to respect that the dog may simply want to sleep all day in her favourite spot in the sun. She may not want to go for walks as often. She may have days when she feels almost puppyish and wants to play, if so, go play! She may become choosy about her favourite foods, so indulge her rather than forcing her to eat what she doesn’t like anymore. If she’s in physical pain, she may not want to be touched too much, or may nip or growl if you go near her. All this is part and parcel of a dog’s life cycle, and the owner owes it to the dog to respect and honour that, right to the end.

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