I am often asked to give an indication of age and the breed of the dogs that my clients have rescued. Some I have seen from rescue centres bear no resemblance to what that centre have assessed as the breed or the age. Unfortunately assessing a dog that is mixed breed takes many years of practice and I cannot write any indicators that would help the inexperienced eye.
Fortunately age does leave indicators that do not need lots of experience and practice for the individual to get the somewhere right. Though these indicators can be affected by many outside influences such as diet, genetics, exercise, neutering, and what sort of upbringing and regular check-ups the dog has had before you re-homed him. Your first port of call with regard to age is the dogs mouth.
All dogs like humans start out with what we laughingly call puppy teeth which could be used as hypodermic needles or as replacements set for a piranha. These start to drop out around about 18 weeks though some of the smaller breeds may start a few weeks before this. By six months all the puppy teeth should be replaced by adult teeth, however the dogs will still have a need to chew as the teeth need to set in the gums and this can take up to a year.
Check to see if there are any puppy teeth left. Observe even if the dogs has its adult teeth if it is still obsessively chewing things to relieve the itch and the pain as the adult teeth set and settle into the gums.
The amount of tartar build-up on the teeth is also a strong indicator of age. In most dogs tartar will start to form around the molars rather than the canines between twenty months and two years. This build-up will be reasonably slight at this age. By five years of age the tartar will be far more obvious and will affect the base of the canines as well.
By the time the dog starts to move into middle age the incisors start to wear down once again this can be affected by diet. As I mentioned earlier this is not an exact science and other outside influences will affect the tartar build-up.
If the dog has been fed on soft food such as tinned or pouched then the tartar will build up quicker and will be more pronounced. Kibble (dry food) will not allow quite the same level of tartar build-up, as long as it is not softened down with warm water.
If the dog's teeth have been regularly brushed using canine toothbrushes and toothpaste then this should stave off tartar. Vets may scrape off tartar when under sedation for other operations; once again this could give a false reading of age. Denta Stix can also help clean the teeth but only give one a day to a medium/ large dog and half of one to a small dog.
If you feed raw food especially with raw and meaty bones that they can really gnaw on, then this action keeps teeth fairly free of the normal build of plaque, gum infections, and tartar. Avoid the large marrowbones especially if they are sawn lengthways as these can break and damage teeth especially the upper carnassials, that is the three pointed teeth that can split and get infected.
One of the downsides of a raw meaty bones diet is the incisors will start to wear down quicker, even more reason to keep away from those large marrow bones. Use chicken or turkey carcasses and necks, lamb necks and ribs are also good.
Hair Skin and Coat
As in humans the hair and skin can give an indication of age. Greying round the muzzle and round the top of the head can indicate onset of middle to old age, but be aware that some breeds grey far earlier than others. Reddish, yellow, or gold colour dogs often go white at the top of their head and their muzzle in late middle to old age.
The skin loses its elasticity and becomes dryer and the dog will generally lose muscle tone as it reaches old age. This will be more apparent if the dog has not been regularly exercised or the diet is of poor quality. The fur may become coarser and drier without the sheen of health and youth. Though once again neutering can coarsen the coat.
There is something called lenticular sclerosis that can affect many dogs. It normally starts between six and eight years of age depending on size and breed. This condition is often mistaken for cataracts especially in the later stages. Dogs do get cataracts but sclerosis is far more common and can be an indicator of a dog's age.
The early onset of this can be distinguished by thin lines across the lens of the eyes, later on say aged eight the pupil will start to get a slight grey, white, or bluish tinge. This does not affect the vision until the dog becomes very old. It is not treatable though it is worth making sure it is not cataracts as these can be removed and therefore treated.
If your rescue dog is slow and sleeps more than he is awake then he is probably in late middle to old age. Arthritis, incontinence and weight gain can also be an indicator of old age. A bad odour that does not appear to go away even after washing is also an indicator of dogs past their middle age and moving into old age. The ability to jump into cars, stiffness, and joint pain though not totally the domain of old age can also be an indicator. Hearing can deteriorate in the later years though the dogs sense of smell rarely declines to any serious extent.
The best you can really expect when trying to age your dog is an approximation, there are just too many variables and of course the size and breed of the dog will skew the results.
Points to Consider
Female dogs of the same breed tend to live one or even a couple of years longer than male dogs. Smaller dogs can live to almost twice the age of the giant breeds. Neutered dogs live slightly longer the un-neutered dogs. However do not neuter your dog until it has achieved physical and social maturity or you may cause serious behavioural and even physical problems. See Spaying and Neutering
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