Stages of a Dog's Life

After the perils and pleasures of early puppyhood, your small dog will hit adolescence at about four months of age. You'll know when your dog reaches this stage because he will become more independent and often disobedient just to test you. When you give your dog a command now, his new response will be the dog's equivalent of “Make me!” If you have neglected obedience training up until this point, you will now have a real challenge on your hands. By about six months of age, your pup will have grown into a young adult, and if you've done your job right, things will get easier. The dog will leave the “punk puppy” attitude behind and be as amenable to training as it was in the kindergarten stages, around three months of age. Maturity in a dog means two things: sexual maturity and physical maturity.

Sexual Maturity

Sexual maturity comes early to small dogs. The mounting behavior your little male might have displayed in early puppyhood may return at around five months of age, but now he has the sperm to go with it. This poses a conundrum for small-dog owners. Their dogs reach puberty by six months of age, often before it's advisable to spay or neuter them, so you must be vigilant to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Conversely, spaying and neutering before six months of age is favored by many vets who maintain that it leads to a longer life. You and your vet should discuss health and risk factors for your particular dog.

Young small dogs metabolize drugs differently than their older and larger counterparts, making them more at risk for anesthesia overdose and adverse drug reactions. They have an immature ability to sustain normal body temperature, putting them at risk for hypothermia while under anesthesia. They are also more prone to hypoglycemia than larger and older dogs.

A tiny female dog's sexual maturity often occurs before her physical maturity and pregnancy could place a great stress on her system. Some small-breed males are able to sire a litter before they reach five months of age. Small-breed females tend to have their first heat at around five or six months of age, way ahead of giant breeds that do not come into heat until they are eighteen to twenty-four months old.

Physical Maturity

Small dogs reach physical maturity by eight to ten months of age. Now your dog is in its prime. With luck and good health on its side, it will remain in these peak years until it reaches middle age, around eight years of age for small dogs, the second stage of your dog's adulthood. Take heart — your little darling will still be an active adult at this stage, but now its body's systems will begin to slow down, with cells starting to deteriorate faster than its body can repair them.

The changes that take place now may be invisible to you, but this life stage is the forerunner to your dog's senior years. Proper nutrition becomes more vital than ever to maintain and repair your dog's cells, delaying the effects of aging and optimizing its quality of life.

This is a good time for a complete checkup by your vet. Detected early, most problems associated with the mature dog can be addressed through dietary or lifestyle changes. Keeping up with the dog's vaccination protection from rabies, distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvovirus, and bordetella, as well as having annual heartworm checks and Lyme disease protection, will help it stay healthy. Lastly, the rate at which your dog will age has much to do with its genetic history as well as with the care you provide. If its parents lived to a ripe old age, chances are your dog will too.

Keeping your mature dog's weight under control grows more important at this stage as its metabolism rate begins to lower.

If you are among those owners who show their love with food — either dog treats or people food — now is the time to cut down. Shower your affection in other ways, by playing, going for walks, or just spending more quality time with your dog. Responding to those imploring eyes every time you sit down to eat will make your dog fat and shorten its life. If you must offer a treat, try low-fat dog cookies, carrots, unbuttered popcorn, apple slices, or a piece of banana. And if you have been handing out the treats, always adjust your dog's meal portion accordingly.

Canine obesity is a serious medical problem, putting dogs at risk if they need surgery and placing more stress on the heart, lungs, joints, kidneys, and liver. Being overweight also makes dogs more injury-prone.

Exercise is also important to keep your aging dog in shape. That daily walk becomes more important than ever, and don't forget your little friend still loves to play with toys, by himself as well with you. Maintain good dental health by regularly brushing your dog's teeth to prevent gum disease, and don't neglect its grooming either. Your regular grooming sessions with the brush and comb will keep your dog looking its best and enable you to monitor its overall condition while you're at it.

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