How Old Is My Dog? 5 Tips for Determining Your Dog’s Age
By Paula Fitzsimmons
Shelter dogs don’t often come with a lot of history, which makes estimating their age a challenge. But having this information is essential to providing optimal care.
“It can help determine the most appropriate time for preventive health protocols, such as vaccination and de-worming, and the best time to test for certain common diseases such as heartworms,” according to Gainesville, Florida-based veterinarian Dr. Brian DiGangi, senior director of shelter medical programs at ASPCA.
It’s pretty easy to spot a puppy. “They have that irresistible cuteness factor and are smaller in stature,” says Dr. Michael Lund, veterinary staff manager at ASPCA in New York City. And they have obvious body characteristics, “like paws that are too large for their body size, excess and loose skin, a gangly look, and a more playful and mischievous attitude,” describes Dr. Virginia Buechner-Maxwell, director of the Center for Animal Human Relationships (CENTAUR) at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.
The best way to determine the age of a puppy is by looking at their teeth. All of a puppy’s baby teeth should erupt between 3 and 6 weeks of age and their adult teeth should appear between 12 and 16 weeks of age at the front of the mouth and between 16 and 24 weeks toward the back.
But how do you determine your adult dog’s age if you don’t know anything about her? “As a dog ages, I often look for loss of vision and hearing,” says Dr. Raymond Bouloy, a board-certified veterinarian with Cypress Creek Pet Care in Cedar Park, Texas. “Is there any loss of mobility or pain? Are there cracked, loose, or painful teeth? Is there loss of cognitive function? All these areas help me determine approximate age of my senior patients.”
Even then, it’s not an exact science. DiGangi says the signs of aging in adult dogs vary quite a bit based on breed, lifestyle, and medical history.
They also vary based on size. Smaller breeds like Chihuahuas and Terriers tend to live longer, while giant breeds like Great Danes and Irish Wolfhounds tend to have the shortest lifespans, explains Bouloy. “A geriatric Chihuahua might be 18 years of age and a geriatric Great Dane might be seven.”
Your vet is, of course, in the best position to estimate your dog’s age, but the following tips can help you make an educated guess. Keep in mind, these tips aren’t foolproof.