Although GSDs tend to retain their puppylike charm throughout their lifetime, they exhibit significant changes as they grow older. Just like people, all senior dogs will slow down. They will have different nutritional needs and will experience a variety of health issues.
As the owner of an aging German Shepherd, you need to be prepared for the changes that will inevitably come.
How Is Caring For An Older German Shepherd Different?
When a German Shepherd grows older, most of the changes that occur are caused by physical aging. Their bodies age and they adapt according to what their bodies enable them to do.
Generally, you’ll notice these most common changes:
They Slow Down
All dogs naturally have less energy as they age. And although they might never outgrow their playfulness, you’ll notice that they slow down significantly.
They will play for shorter periods and will prefer mentally stimulating games over physically exhausting activities. Arthritis and other age-related difficulties could also cause some mobility issues.
They Have Joint Issues
Hip and elbow dysplasia are common in German Shepherds but usually only occurs when it runs in their genes.
Nevertheless, large dogs are especially prone to joint and mobility issues. Apart from slowing down, such issues often cause pain that might require maintenance medication.
They Have Trouble Seeing
Although the German Shepherd is not among the breeds that are prone to cataracts, they still do occur in some dogs. But even in the absence of eye disease, all dogs develop vision issues as they age.
This means having to dog-proof your home and making sure their basic needs (e.g., water, food bowl, bed, etc.) are always in the same place.
They Become More Clingy
As a result of being more dependent on your care, older German Shepherds tend to become more clingy.
You’ll notice that they want you to be around all the time, possibly feeling insecure when you’re away. They also become more affectionate and prefer a quiet snuggle over an energetic game of fetch.
What Age Is A German Shepherd Considered A Senior Dog?
Many believe that you can get a dog’s age in “human years” by multiplying their age by 7 (e.g., a 3-year-old dog is equivalent to a 21-year-old human). But based on University of California research, this is the more accurate comparison between human and canine ages:
|Dog Age||Human Age|
|0 to 8 weeks||First 9 months|
|2 to 6 months||1 to 12 years|
|6 months to 2 years||12 to 25 years|
|2 to 7 years||25 to 50 years|
|7 to 12 years||70 years|
So, based on this study, dogs become elderly at around 7 years old. However, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), larger breeds like German Shepherds are considered to be senior dogs when they’re around 5 or 6 years old.
Note that these numbers are general guidelines only. Signs of seniorhood might appear sooner or later for each dog. A lot relies on their genetic predispositions as well as their health condition from puppyhood throughout their adult life.
Tips For Caring For A Senior German Shepherd
When you have an elderly German Shepherd in your care, here are some things you can do to keep them comfortable and happy throughout their final years:
Change Their Exercise Routine
Senior German Shepherds will still try to be active, but it’ll be up to you to give them the exercise they need without causing excessive strain on their bodies. Instead of running on pavement, you might consider walking on grass.
Swimming is an especially beneficial exercise option for aging German Shepherds.
Make sure to get them a dog life jacket so they can float while strengthening their muscles and improving their joint mobility. Dog toys for water also help by motivating them to keep moving.
Take Them For Regular Vet Check-ups
As they age, dogs become more susceptible to certain health issues. Your vet can help you catch signs of organ problems, cognitive dysfunction, or cancer and then provide treatments early to avoid complications.
Your vet can also help keep your dog comfortable with medications and lifestyle advice.
Adjust Their Diet
Less physical activity means your dog doesn’t need as many calories as they used to. Giving them the same diet as they’ve had for most of their adult life will likely make them overweight.
Instead, shift to a diet that’s formulated for senior dogs. Usually, this means fewer calories and smaller kibble sizes.
If your dog needs softer food, consider some of the best wet dog food for German Shepherds.
Reduce The Strain On Their Bodies
You may need to make certain changes around your home and lifestyle to accommodate the changing needs of your elderly pet.
For example, they might be more comfortable with an orthopedic mattress laid on a floor rather than having to sleep on a platform on which they need to jump.
You might also consider installing a ramp on steps to avoid excessive strain on their joints.
Learn How To Carry Them
There may come a time when your dog’s body is too frail for certain movements. Make sure you learn how to carry large dogs in a way that’s safe and comfortable.
This is especially needed when they can no longer safely jump to and from higher places like your car, the vet’s examination table, or your sofa.
Give Them Extra Love
At this point in your relationship, it’s good to spend as much time as possible with your dog. Although you’ll definitely cherish memorable trips and activities, your dog will be content with just having you around.
Offer extra cuddles, longer belly rubs and ear scratches, and maybe even some homemade treats.
Keys To Helping Your German Age Gracefully
As with humans, dog aging is natural and the physical changes that come with it are inevitable. But there are things you can do throughout your dog’s life to ensure health and happiness even as they grow older.
Here are some of the most critical ways you can help your German Shepherd age with grace:
Get Your Dog From A Reputable Breeder
Although this shouldn’t put you off adoption entirely, genes matter, especially in senior dogs. Genetic predispositions often become apparent as dog’s age.
For German Shepherds, this often involves the bones and joints. Other inherited predispositions include cancer and dementia.
Keep Them Active Throughout Their Life
Ensuring that your dog gets plenty of exercise and maintains a healthy weight throughout puppyhood and their adult life leads to healthier senior years. Their bodies will be stronger and better able to adapt to the changes brought on by age.
Give Them A High-quality Diet
Meeting your dog’s nutritional needs at every life stage is essential to ensuring they live a long and healthy life. This means selecting the best dog food according to the nutritional content, their taste preferences, and your budget.
Make sure you check the label and avoid filler ingredients and low-quality protein sources.
Start Supplements Early
A good diet is often enough to meet your dog’s nutritional needs. Nevertheless, it also helps to give your dog supplements to bolster their immune system and avoid conditions their breed is predisposed to.
For example, German Shepherds are often given joint supplements as soon as they hit adulthood. Additionally, dogs that are prone to skin conditions also benefit from taking supplements for dog coat growth.
Visit Your Vet Often
Never miss your dog’s regular checkups and recommended vaccinations. This will minimize their risk for severe diseases and will also ensure early detection of anything they might develop.
It will also help you monitor your dog’s weight and stay on top of parasite prevention treatments. Additionally, seeing your vet often will also help you rest easy knowing that your pup is healthy.
Thinking about your dog’s old age is undeniably difficult. But, it pays to plan for the inevitable and make sure you’re physically, financially, and emotionally prepared to care for them in their final years.
Apart from learning how to care for a senior dog, read this article on the German Shepherd’s typical lifespan and what you can do to help them live longer: How long do German Shepherds live?