One aspect of having a rescue dog is not knowing quite what your canine friend got up to before you met. For example, how old is your dog? Unlike with a pedigree, rescue dogs don’t come with a birth certificate.
While you won’t be able to pin it down to the exact date, there are ways that you can take an informed guess as to when your dog was born. As a vet, here are some of the techniques that I use.
With a puppy, determining the animal’s age is relatively simple. Here are some basic facts you need to know before making an educated guess on your pet’s age:
In older dogs, you’ll probably need a more experienced eye to spot the clues. In fact, it’s likely that you’ll need to speak to your vet whose training will help them make an estimate based on:
Such dental examinations used to be the gold standard of gauging a dog’s age. Today, though, their usefulness is less certain because so many different variables can influence dental wear, such as::
Considering all the above, it is safe to assume that this method is not 100% reliable. Studies suggest that dental age estimates tend to be more accurate in puppies and adult dogs younger than four years of age.
This must be carried out by an experienced vet. To conduct the examination and estimate the dog’s age, the vet will place it in a darkened room and shine a penlight into their eyes.
When light touches the eye’s surface, it creates two types of reflections: nuclear and capsular. The vet will estimate the dog’s age based on the presence and features of those reflections.
Studies suggest that this method is more accurate in dogs older than four years of age.
Dog DNA tests are a hot topic right now. They can be used to gain a plethora of useful information that is easy to use and readily available. There are several DNA tests on the market that promise specifically to determine your dog’s age. However, unlike a quick trip to the vet’s, these dog DNA tests can be pricey.
There’s another potential drawback, too. Genetic or biological age is not the same thing as the dog’s chronological age. The biological age is based on the dog’s current health status and predicts the dog’s lifespan. Knowing the biological age can be more important medically that knowing how many years your dog has been on the Earth but it might not help you mark in the diary exactly when to buy the doggy birthday cake.
As dogs age, certain body functions deteriorate and individual traits change. For example, hearing and vision deteriorate, muscle tone decreases, and coat hairs turn white.
These changes can help to determine that a dog is old but not how old. What is more, these changes are not always age-related. Many health problems and conditions can trigger their onset. For example, an untreated middle ear infection can impair the dog’s hearing sense while stress may cause premature hair pigment loss.
Having said all that, you might wonder “Is it really that important to know your dog’s exact age?” After all, we adore our canine companions, regardless of their age.
Yes, it is important. Dogs at different stages of their lives have different nutrition, exercise, and veterinary care requirements. Being a responsible dog parent means fulfilling those requirements as fully as possible, which involves knowing the dog’s age or at least a rough estimate of it.
So, in that case, which method of measuring your dog’s age is best? There is, unfortunately, no perfect answer. However, as a general rule, if you suspect your pooch is younger than four years old, then a dental examination by your vet will give you the best answer. Older than four and your vet will most likely recommend an eye inspection.
Read our tips on how to name your dog, with suggestions of where to get your inspiration and advice on making it easy for your dog to remember
Comedian Simon Evans shares how he struggled to find the right dog for his family.