It’s an old chestnut that for every year a dog passes through, they’re actually aging seven years in people terms. Although this is a rough estimate, it’s not all that far from reality. It’s probably closer to the truth, though, that the average dog ages about eight years for every human year.

With time passing this fast for your four-footed friend, it’s important that you have some familiarity with older dog health issues, and how you can usher your pet through his “golden years” with the greatest amount of understanding and comfort.

It isn’t a simple matter to talk about older dogs, because different breeds age at different rates. On the whole, large dog breeds age significantly faster than smaller breeds.

People owning large and beautiful dogs such as the Great Dane or Saint Bernard are often surprised at how short these animals’ lifespans are. In fact, the health of a larger dog typically starts to deteriorate at around six years of age, with some large breeds having a life span of only about eight years. On the other end of the scale, the tiny Yorkshire Terrier typically isn’t a senior citizen until he hits about age 13. Chihuahuas tend to live from 12 to 18 years, and toy poodles from 15 to 18.

It isn’t always easy to start caring for your older dog’s evolving needs, because it’s not always easy to tell when your dog is starting to enter his old age. Aging and age-related changes come on slowly, gradually and often, subtly.

One telltale sign (if your dog doesn’t happen to be white) is the graying or whitening of the hairs around your dog’s muzzle. It isn’t always easy to tell when this phenomenon starts, though.

Another change that comes on gradually is that your dog’s coat may seem less shiny and clean, and somehow looks less well-groomed than it used to. In addition, you might notice he looks a little stiffer going up the stairs or jumping off the couch. He might also be a tad less excited about going outside on unusually cold or hot days. All these signs can indicate that your dog’s started to enter his golden years.

It may startle you to suddenly realize that your dog has entered old age, and is beginning to develop a need for some new kinds of dog care. But don’t be alarmed. Aging is as natural for your pet as it is for us all. Embrace these changes as a reminder of the importance of every moment you spend with your canine companion.

You’ll also want to become educated on ways you can prolong your dog’s good health. Here are just a few:

  • Avoid obesity.
  • Buy only high-quality dog food — no cheap stuff.
  • Keep your dog’s teeth clean.
  • Tease him into some exercise (it doesn’t have to be the Boston Marathon).
  • Make absolutely sure he’s parasite-free.
  • Keep him groomed, and add a little oil to his coat if his skin is dry.
  • Help him avoid temperature extremes — make sure Fido has a comfy rug or bed someplace warm in the winter, or a cool spot to snooze during a hot summer.