How Old is that Dog in the Window?

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If you have decided to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or rescue GOOD FOR YOU! If you have already adopted or acquired your dog as a stray or from a friend THAT’S GREAT TOO!

Chances are, you know approximately your adopted dogs age based on what you were told when you got him, but it is often difficult for even a veterinarian to tell the exact age of your pup. We can make an educated guess based on a few factors like teeth and fur color. You know your dog better than anyone. Learn the canine signs of aging and it will help you make more appropriate choices in the type of care you give your dog.

First let’s talk a little about Aging Profiles of Dogs. Smaller dogs can live up to 16 years, medium sized dogs 10 to 14 years and large dogs like Great Dane size typically live 7 to 8 years. Large breed dogs stay “puppylike” for 24 months or more, compared to the usual 12 to 15 months for medium and small dogs.

Puppies: It is easier to tell how old a puppy is than an older dog based on their baby teeth:

  • At one month of age, milk teeth start pushing through the gums
  • Permanent Canine teeth come in around 5 months of age
  • The last permanent teeth to come in will be the back molars, those come in between 5 and 7 months of age

Ridges and Unevenness on the Front Teeth: At about 1 year of age, a dog will have ridges or bumps along the tops of their 4 front incisors, top and bottom jaw. Front incisors are the teeth that your dog uses for that nibbling type of grooming. As he ages, the bumps will wear down. At 3 to 4 years of age, the ridges should be halfway worn away and at about 7 years of age, the tops of these incisors should be completely smooth.

Rivers the Dog

See the Fleur de Lis shape on this younger dog’s teeth?

smooth dog teeth

See how these teeth are getting smoother across the top?

Tartar Buildup: Tartar generally starts to form around the teeth at about 4 years of age and gets darker and thicker the older your dog gets.

Just like with people, tooth condition depends on genetics and dental care or lack of care. My 15 year old dog had perfect white teeth all her life and my other dog (who was on antibiotics for months as a pup) had discolored teeth with lots of tartar when I adopted him at 6 months old. Tooth condition is not an exact indication of age, just a guide.

Fur: Fur color is not a great way to gauge age. Fur around the muzzle or under the chin can start turning grey as early as 2 years old. Premature greying in dogs does exist. Stress is considered a factor, and dogs that had a rougher start in life may go grey earlier. Genetics are mainly responsible for when a dog goes grey, just like in people.

If you notice greying everywhere, like on the chest and face, behind the legs, ears and on the paws, your dog may be approaching senior status.

At what age is my dog considered a senior?

To answer this question most accurately, we have to refer to the Aging Profile factor. A dog is considered a senior in the last 25% of their expected lifespan.

  •   A Great Dane has a life expectancy of 8 years, so they will be considered a senior at 6 years old
  •   A Chihuahua has a life expectancy of 16 years, so they will be considered a senior at 12 years old

In my personal experience with medium sized dogs (in the 50 to 70 pound weight class), senior dog behavior starts to set in around the 6 to 7 year mark. Do you agree or disagree?

Young Senior Dog Indicators:

  • Senior dogs start developing lumps on their bodies called  lipomas, these are fatty lumps and usually nothing to worry about
  • General slowing down and tiring out quicker after play
  • Behavioral changes: some not so great like new found fear of thunderstorms, others can be positive like attentiveness and patience
  • Muscle tone tends to decrease in senior dogs

Super Senior Dog Indicators:

  • Having accidents: Physical examinations should always be done if a housebroken dog starts having accidents indoors. If your older female dog has gone incontinent, your veterinarian can prescribe medication for this, and for males there’s always the Belly Band!
  • Lenticular Sclerosis is a bluish grey haze that covers your dog’s eyes when they get older.  It does not affect your dog’s vision, but will look cloudy to you. Your veterinarian should be able to tell you if your dog has this when he shines a light into them. Lenticular Sclerosis is different than Keratitis (cloudy eye), the latter being very serious with a host of signs that should indicate vet attention is necessary.

Every dog is an individual, and if you spend time with them and tune into them you can probably guess pretty accurately how old they are. If you are planning a trip to the animal shelter, you can take along these tips if age is a factor in picking out your new best pal.

Do you have anything to add? Leave a comment below!

17 Responses

  1. Darrell says:

    I don’t agree with your life expectancy for dogs. I’ve had all sizes and they have all lived much longer than what you have indicated. I had a chow/lab mix (weighed about 45 lbs.) that lived to be 16 and a half years old. I have a German shepherd that is about 8 and she shows no signs of slowing down (still plays with my dachshund). I think the key to longer lives for dogs is to let them get plenty of exercise. Most people keep larger dogs either tied or locked up in small pens. That’s the worst thing anyone can do to an animal. Take them walking. They’ll live much longer!

    • Michelle says:

      Yeah, exercise is great. This is merely based on statistics in guessing. I do agree that people don’t exercise their dogs enough.

  2. Molly says:

    I adopted a red Merle Australian shepherd from the shelter on July 27th 2013. Everyone else in my family doesn’t care how old he is. But it really pesters me that I don’t know how old he is and how old he will live to be. He runs back and forth all day, he ran away from home countless times, and one time, even when we were driving through the mountains at night and I opened the door to get out because I thought I saw a backpack on the road. And he bursted through. He climbs up the playset and goes in the trampoline and one time, when I was on the shed roof getting the frisbee that I accidentally threw up there, he climbed up the ladder onto the roof with me, and jumped from 7 feet high into the neighbor’s yard. He has grey on his paw pads, and yellowish teeth. He’s playful and energetic. How old is he? Australian shepherds are supposed to act puppy-like all their lives. He is fully grown and his fur isn’t very smooth.
    And large dogs don’t die at ages 10-14. I had a golden retriever live until she turned 16.

  3. Dave says:

    Good article, great tips when finding a shelter dog.
    Previous commenters should keep in mind your speaking in averages and that theres always exceptions. Relax people!

  4. Hope says:

    Mix breeds of dogs live much longer than pure breeds, but less is known about how mixed breeds age because vets and other professionals go by pure breed standards

  5. Kate says:

    Lol I love how statistical averages are wrong because Lucy know-it-all had this experience and that experience and blah blah blah.

  6. heather waller says:

    my welsh collie had patterned bottom paws when rescued.Does that indicate he was a puppy

  7. Ringo says:

    Thank you this is a great guide to determine how old a dog could be. I have experienced different life spans with different dogs. The information on here it’s about as accurate a vet will give you. You don’t have to go by this guide or read it.

  8. Rachel Schreiner says:

    My husband and I adopted an Australian Kelpie / Pit bull mix from our local Humane Society. They provided the original owner’s animal surrender paperwork, so, luckily, we received a wealth of information about her. She began turning gray when she was a little over two years old. I was told that Kelpies tend to turn gray early, but have a long life span. Kelpies are known for their intelligence and loyalty, but aren’t for the average owner. They need a LARGE yard and plenty of vigorous exercise EVERY DAY. They also do not like to be left alone. If you can provide these things, they are amazing companions.

  9. Jenny says:

    hi I currently have 3 dogs even though I should have only 2. My family and I adopted a pretty much pure bred border collie in July 2014. And I 3 months ago got a what we were told was a 3 month old lab/gold retriever/border collie mix but some how she is all black. And 2 days ago a lab mix dog wondered to our door and wouldn’t leave so my family and I took him in. He had no tags, but he is quite large and very very skinny. My mother had taken to get to see if had a micro chip and he didn’t. Me and my mother have been arguing about how old he is. He seems to have a lot of energy, but he has grey hairs on his face. Not too many though. And a couple greys on each paw. Does anyone have a guess how old he may be?

    • Estelle W. says:

      Hi Jenny: It’s pretty hard to tell the age of a dog without the benefit of seeing him. If you take him to the vet they should be able to look at his teeth and give you a ballpark. Thanks for writing in!

  10. Jo says:

    Hi all . . I’ve recently adopted a dog that has been guesstimated to be around 9 based on him being handed in as a stray when he was quite young. They assumed he was three at that time. Had been rehomed for 6 years and then surrendered again! He’s a black retriever and going grey around the muzzle .. I don’t think he’s 9 though . . he’s more like a seven year old! Looking at the criteria for averaging a dogs age I assume it could be quite easy to mistake a 1 year old adult dog with a three year old particularly if they’re prone to chewing things (which he is) he’s not destructive but does like to chomp on things. So maybe they got it wrong? I do hope so . . it means I might get to have him for longer.

  11. Michelle says:

    @Darrell this just an educated guess in the life expectancy. Maybe based on statistics, you know.

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