December 2, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Senior dog

By |2019-10-03T23:07:14+02:00April 1st, 2009|Lifestyle Archive|
The official birthday portrait.

t started with a few white hairs. Next, the confident strut segued into a bouncy walk. Then, catnaps became longer and included snoring. And Nutro Natural Choice re-categorized my “hero” from “Adult Small Bites” to “Senior.” I didn’t want to believe it but Bella was no longer the three-year-old dog-pup I adopted in April 2003.

On April 4, Bella celebrated her ninth birthday. Not once in six years have I ever considered that Bella was aging. With each birthday, I add one more chalk mark to the invisible scoreboard that counted out how her years spent with me equaled and now surpass the time spent with the “Others.”

I looked forward to celebrating 2009 as the “Double Life of Bella Bean,” in which her years with me were officially twice those spent with “Them.” That ugly past should be put aside for good.

But a few days ago, when looking for “Small Bites,” the shop guy asked me how old my dog was. I told him and he told me that Nine meant “Senior dog.”

The thought of Bella getting old scares me and I deny it by dressing her in cute sweaters and styling her hair in a faux-hawk. But recently, I’ve noticed obvious signs of aging.

No matter how much food she eats, her bones still stick out. When we play chase, I catch her more easily, and sometimes she yelps if I grab her near her hips. She doesn’t want to play as much as she wants to nap beside me. Bella, my eternal puppy, is getting on, and I have to remind myself that if she’s maturing, I need to as well — for her sake.

When pets begin to outgrow adult cucciolo, puppy, status, the best thing an owner can do is pay attention. Changes in weight and behavior indicate potential problems. Like humans, older pets gain weight more easily than puppies, who have a lot of energy to burn. A well-aware owner will monitor and adjust their pet’s diet in advance to help prevent potential kidney and cardiac problems.

Likewise, all owners should take more time out to observe a pet’s behavior. Some behavioral problems associated with aging are seen in sleep, human interaction and house training. The changes are sometimes evident.

Not all of us are stay-home veterinarians, and with Bella, I might naïvely continue believing that her incontinence is a psychological result of abandonment. The best gift any senior (and upcoming senior) pet can receive is the attention and professional care of a veterinarian.

This means twice-a-year visits for a full physical and behavioral examination. The exams help a vet assess an animal’s progress into his or her golden years. The vet should tell owners what to look for — arthritis? skin problems? dental issues? — and assuage, not amplify, owner concerns, so that their pets live more happily and longer.

Have no idea if your pet is “Senior”? Race, breed, breeding and weight are the key factors in making that determination. Most vets will let you know.

As for Bella, she’s 49.

Here are some useful links. On animal life span; on dog age and cat age.

About the Author:

Erica Firpo wrote The American's pet advice column from 2006 to 2009. She is a freelance travel and culture writer who lives in Rome with husband, daughter and faithful sidekick Bella. She has worked for Fodor's Rome edition, Luxe City Guides and National Geographic Travel, as well as writing art reviews for Zing and other U.S.-based magazines.