The Life Stages of a Dog

According to the American Animal Hospital Association, dogs have six distinct life stages and need different care during each of them.

Dogs are considered puppies from birth until they are able to reproduce.  This happens sometime between six and eight months of age for most dogs, although it varies by size and breed.  Puppies need several rounds of vaccinations starting at six to eight weeks of age and going through sixteen weeks of age.  Their diet also changes, from mother’s milk to solid food.  The number of meals a dog needs a day decreases, from every two hours to two meals a day.

Junior dogs are considered dogs that are able to reproduce.  They are not mature yet, and are basically teenagers.  Your dog is still growing and his brain is still maturing.  He can learn the basic obedience commands at this age, if he has not learned them already.  He may not be able to obey such commands as “stay” very long, however.

A dog is officially an adult once he has stopped growing.  Depending on the breed, he may still act like a teenager for a while.  This is especially true of big dog breeds, which take longer to mature than smaller breeds.

A dog is mature when he has lived for half his breed’s life expectancy.  Dogs that weigh less tend to live longer than dogs that way more.  For example, a Chihuahua may live twenty years while a Great Dane may live only eight years.

As junior through mature dogs, your pet needs regular exercise, good food, regular vaccinations, and regular veterinary examinations.

A senior dog has reached the last quarter of his life span.  Veterinary exams should be done every six months to pick up any problems promptly, as opposed to every year.  The veterinarian may do blood tests to check for thyroid, liver, and kidney problems as well as normal blood work.  Senior dogs need food designed for older dogs, need less exercise, and may lose some hearing and eyesight.

A geriatric dog is a dog that has lived out his breed’s lifespan and is still going strong.  Like the senior dog, geriatric dogs may need special food, medications, and more gentle exercise than a junior or adult dog would.  They also need to be seen by the veterinarian more often and have routine blood work at each visit to check how their liver, kidney, thyroid, and other organs are performing.

A geriatric or senior dog cannot handle temperature extremes, so you may have to exercise early in the morning or late in the evening in hot weather, or during the heat of the day in the cold.  They may need less food, so you may have to reduce their rations to keep them from getting fat.  Also, older dogs may have some cognitive problems along with losing some sight and hearing, so it is important to ‘age-proof’ your home for your aging dog.  Leaving furniture in the same place and picking up your things so the dog doesn’t stumble over them is one way to do this.

Hopefully, your dog will go through all six stages of life while with you.