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Help Your Dog Age Well, from Puppy to Senior

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

Having a dog brings so much joy into your home and life, but it’s a huge responsibility to care for a living, breathing animal their entire life–especially because you want to provide a happy, carefree–and pain-free–life.

Meeting your dog’s needs in every stage of life requires education, adaptability, and thinking ahead. In each stage, their needs change. What your dog needs in his first year of life is very different from what he needs in his last year. It is important to know what to expect as your dog ages, so you can help them thrive.

Big Dogs vs. Small Dogs

One thing to note is bigger breeds age differently than smaller ones. Small dogs reach sexual maturity quicker, and the smaller females tend to go through more heat cycles — known as estrus — per year.

Bigger breeds, on the other hand, take longer to grow and reach sexual maturity. The one thing they do more quickly than smaller breeds is reach the last stage of their life. It only takes them 5-7 years to become senior. For smaller dogs, it’s closer to 8-10 years.

The Puppy Stage

During the puppy stage, your dog will develop quickly. When a puppy is first born, they are in the neonatal phase for about two weeks. During this time their sensory, nervous, and motor systems aren’t completely developed. They aren’t able to hear, see or regulate their body temperature very well. It is important to make sure they are with their mother as often as possible.

After that, they go through transitional and socialization stages of puppyhood, which are key moments for their behavioral development. At these points of their life, they learn how to interact with their environment, with other dogs, with other people, and with other species.

It is important that you make sure your dog has a wide variety of things to interact with during this time of their life, as long as those things aren’t dangerous. This will help them adapt to the world around them as they reach adulthood.

  • How Does Puppy Food Differ From Dog Food?

Puppies are in a stage of constant growth and development. This requires a lot of energy. They should eat foods that have more calories, proteins, and fats than what adult dogs have.

A good one to try is pawTree’s Real Turkey & Sweet Potato Recipe. It was developed by veterinarians and includes real turkey as its main ingredient. It’s also grain-free, which makes it easy for your puppy to digest, which means your puppy’s energy is better spent on development.

The Adolescent Stage

As dogs grow out of the puppy phase, they reach adolescence. This is where their hormones start kicking in and they go through puberty. Luckily, it’s not as awkward for them as it is for your teenage son or daughter.

This is the point in their lives when their learning and motor skills are refined, but it’s also when they struggle to be obedient. Teaching them may be difficult because they have a hard time concentrating. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to train them, though. You just have to be persistent and patient.

Reaching Adulthood & Sexual Maturity

The timing for dogs to reach sexual maturity, again, depends on the dog breed. Most of them reach this point when they are six-to-nine months old. However, some bigger dogs may take as long as eighteen months to reach this point.

What exactly happens at this stage depends on the gender.

  • Female Dogs and Estrus

The mark of sexual maturity for female dogs is their first estrus. This usually happens when a female reaches 70%-80% of her total body weight, which is typically when they are about six months old. However, it can happen in as little as four months.

Estrus lasts about two-to-three weeks, and there are several signs that your dog is experiencing it. These include increased urination, being overly friendly with other dogs, and increased nervousness.

The most noticeable sign is that your dog’s vulva swells up and a discharge comes out. At first, it is thick and bloody. As the cycle progresses the discharge becomes more watery and clear, with some blood mixed in.

During the entire cycle, male dogs will find your female dog attractive. That does not mean she is ready to mate. She is usually not receptive to males until the discharge changes, which takes about ten days.

The first estrus is when your dog can get pregnant, but her eggs are not completely mature yet. It is a good idea to wait until the second estrus to breed your dog because that will help ensure a healthy pregnancy.

After the first estrus, dogs have regular cycles. They happen about two times per year, but the exact interval depends on the breed. Smaller dogs tend to have them more frequently.

  • How to Care for Your Dog During Estrus

Estrus isn’t always the most comfortable time for your dog. Her hormones are active, and she will feel discomfort and anxiety. It is important to pay extra attention to her and go on extra walks.

Another thing that might help her out is a hemp-based supplement that is designed by veterinarians. It’s called Chillax by pawTree. Just one soft chewable is enough to help your dog relieve stress and tension for twelve hours. You can get some for your dog by following this link.

  • Male Dogs

Sexuality in male dogs is a little simpler. They can reach maturity in as little as five months. Once this happens, your dog can be sexually active throughout the year.

There is a period of time where male dogs are the most fertile, and that is when they are 12-to-15 months old. They are loaded with more testosterone than ever during this time, and other male dogs might behave aggressively towards them for that reason.

  • When to Neuter or Spay Your Dog

This is a question that you need to discuss with your veterinarian. If you decide to go through with the process, it is important to do so at the right time.

The American Kennel Club recommends waiting until your dog is fully mature. For female dogs that means they should go through one estrus cycle before they are spayed. The reason for this is hormones help close the growth plates when they are mature. Spaying or neutering too early can lead to orthopedic problems in the future.

The Senior Stage

This is the latest stage of your dog’s life. You may notice the fur on your dog’s muzzle graying a little bit. Your dog may wander the halls of your house sluggishly and spend a lot of time napping and relaxing. It can be sad to see your dog slow down, but it’s the cycle of life. While you can’t stop the end of life, you can take some steps to prolong your pet’s life and make them more comfortable.

One way is to make sure your dog gets exercise. Remember, exercise should look different for an older dog and it won’t come as naturally. However, you can still take them on leisurely walks.

You should also make sure your dog is going to the veterinarian regularly. There are a number of conditions that your dog can develop, including dental disease, osteoarthritis, vision problems, and cognitive issues among others. A veterinarian can give you recommendations based on your dog’s circumstances to help improve their health.

Supplements can also make a huge difference in your dog’s health, especially if you’re proactive about supplementing before old age hits. To prevent and ease joint problems, try Joint Support Plus. This chewable was developed by veterinarians to keep your dog stay healthy and mobile by maintaining the normal viscosity of the joint fluid.

If you have noticed your older dog wandering around aimlessly, vocalizing more, and relieving himself inside rather than outside, they may be experiencing cognitive decline. Brain Drops can help your dog stay mentally sharp, especially in old age. This chewable supplement can help stimulate your dog’s brain and balance behavior. Your dog may become happier, less stressed, and get better quality rest.

Having a dog is a life experience like no other. It’s worth all the love and energy you put into creating a safe, happy existence for them. Through quality nutrition, added supplements, exercise, and regular vet visits, you can add years to their life and your time with them.


About the Author

Kristi Diaz MD

Kristi is a retired anesthesiologist who loves helping people take good care of their pets.


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