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Your Pet's Life Stages and Health

As your dog grows from puppy to senior, you'll need to adjust how you take care of him. Here's what to expect as he moves through six stages of life.

Puppies and How to Take Care of Them

Life Stage No. 1: Puppy. Your dog is a puppy from the time it's a newborn until it's able to reproduce.

This happens at different ages, depending on the breed of your dog. Small breeds tend to reach sexual maturity earlier than larger breeds.

Weaning. Puppies slowly switch from their mother's milk to eating other foods when they're 3 or 4 weeks old. They should be fully switched over from milk to food by the time they're 7 or 8 weeks old.

Feeding. The number of feedings per day changes as your puppy gets older:

  • 2 to 3 months old: 4 times a day

  • 4 months old to 1 year old (up to 24 months in larger breeds): 2 times a day


After age 1, feed your dog once or twice a day.

Dental Care. Dogs may show signs of gum disease by age 4 -- or even as early as age 1 in some small-breed dogs -- if you don't take proper care of their teeth. So the right time to begin proper dental care is when your dog is still a puppy. To clean your puppy's teeth, use a special toothbrush made for dogs or else use a clean piece of gauze wrapped around your finger. You can make your own toothpaste out of baking soda and water or buy one that is specially formulated for dogs. Never use toothpaste that's meant for people.

House training. You can introduce the idea of house training as soon as your puppy is weaned. He's still developing, though, so don't expect him to learn quickly. By the time he's 4 to 6 months old, he can usually go without having accidents.

Spaying and neutering. You may want to have your puppy spayed (removing females' ovaries and uterus) or neutered (removing males' testicles). These operations keep dogs from reproducing and having more puppies. They are usually done when your puppy is around 6 months old.

Spaying and neutering while they are puppies rather than as adults can help prevent problems like breast cancer and testicular disease when they get older.

Vaccines. Dogs need several rounds of vaccinations or shots during their first year. Talk to your veterinarian about which ones your dog needs and when to get them.

Adult Dogs and Their Care

In these three stages your dog is in the prime of his life. The ages for these stages may differ with each breed, but here are some guidelines:

Life Stage No. 2: Junior. Now your dog is kind of like a teenager. Although he can reproduce, he's still growing, so he's not quite an adult yet. His age in this stage ranges from 6 to 12 months.

Life Stage No. 3: Adult. Your dog is officially an "adult" once he has finished growing. He looks and behaves like a grown dog. His age ranges from 1 to 7 years.

Life Stage No. 4: Mature. Your dog has hit middle age! His age is older than 7 years. Breeds that are smaller -- as measured by weight, not height -- tend to live longer than bigger dogs.

While they're usually easier to care for than puppies, grown dogs still need your help with a few things so they can live their best:

Exercise. No matter his life stage, be sure your dog gets plenty of exercise. It will help keep him happy and at a healthy weight. Just don’t overdo it, especially in large and giant breeds, because their skeletons are not mature until about 2 years of age.

Vaccines and visits to the vet. Take your dog to the vet every year for a checkup and vaccines to protect him against disease.

Older Dogs and How to Take Care of Them

Life Stage No. 5: Senior. Your dog enters this stage once he's reached the last quarter of his life expectancy. A dog's lifespan varies according to size and breed.

Life Stage No. 6: Geriatric. Your dog has reached his life expectancy and is still going! Dogs stay in this final stage for the rest of their lives.

As he gets older, your dog may slow down and need a little more attention.

Food. Older dogs may not need as much food as they did when they were younger. Ask your vet whether you should switch to food made for senior dogs and how much to feed him.

Checkups. You may need to begin taking your older dog to the vet for checkups every 6 months. That's because later in life, dogs are more likely to develop arthritis and other diseases. Routine blood tests can help detect problems early, such as kidney disease. Early diagnosis and therapy can help prolong his life.

Your dog may develop bad breath and dental problems as he gets older. Talk to your vet about how to care for your dog's teeth.

Temperature. Older dogs still need exercise. But they often can't handle extreme temperatures as well. So, protect your senior dog from overheating.

Home. Later in life, dogs may have poorer vision and more trouble walking and thinking clearly. "Age-proof" your house to protect your dog by keeping the floor clear of electric cords and other objects. Provide thicker bedding so there is less pressure on his joints when lying down.

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