Ask the Veterinarian/Age estimate


QUESTION: My dog, who was a rescue, recently died.  I think it's a good idea to adopt rescues, and am considering another one in the future.  Is there a way to estimate, fairly accurately, the age of a dog?   When I got my rescue dog, the rescue group said he was about 4 years old.  After adopting him, veterinarians thought he could be as old as 8.  He lived for another 7 years, which went by too fast for me.  I loved him very much and have so much grief.  I fear I may adopt another rescue who might be older than I think, and then in just a few years I'll be grieving again.  I'd rather adopt a younger dog of maybe 2 or 3 years.  Many rescues are strays of unknown age.   I know that older dogs also make wonderful companions, but I'd be sad to lose them too soon.   I know people who continue to adopt sick and/or old dogs and they become pets for their remaining years.  I applaud them for doing this, but they must be able to control their emotions (better than me)to have a pet die almost every year.  Soon after, they get another one.  My rescue dog required ongoing medical treatment at home for all of the years I had him.  He had some kind of chronic bronchitis and/or asthma, received steroid pills and regular nebulizer treatments.  I loved him, so I didn't neglect his care.  But yet I do hope my next dog won't have many problems, at least not in the younger years.  Back to my basic question - is there a good way to estimate a dog's age?  Thank you so much.

ANSWER: Hi Vicki,

If you don’t know the birth date, you can still guess the age,though difficult.This is not accurate,but only an approximation.

Their tooth should give you a rough idea of the age. These guidelines will vary from dog to dog, and they also depend on the kind of dental care (if any) they had before you got them.

   By 8 weeks: All baby teeth are in.
   By 7 months: All permanent teeth are in and are white and clean.
   By 1-2 years: Teeth are duller and the back teeth may have some yellowing.
   By 3-5 years: All teeth may have tartar buildup and some tooth wear.
   By 5-10 years: Teeth show more wear and signs of disease.
   By 10-15 years: Teeth are worn, and heavy tartar buildup is likely. Some teeth may be missing.

Your vet can also guess the age based on a complete physical exam or tests that look at bones, joints, muscles, and internal organs. Senior dogs might show some specific signs of aging,like, Cloudy eyes,Gray hair. It starts around the muzzle then spreads to other areas of the face, head, and body,Loose skin,Stiff legs etc.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you so much.  It seems like the teeth tell a lot.  My rescue had a number of teeth missing when I adopted him, and then had to have a couple of more teeth pulled shortly after.  When a dog has an unknown past, we don't know if the teeth were ever brushed or cared for. Probably a lot of rescue groups can't pay for teeth cleanings.  If they do, then even an older dog's teeth might look good!   But, doctors can also look for wear, which I probably couldn't do.
It's not the best comparison, but when people shop for a used car, they often have a mechanic check it before they buy it.  In the case of rescue dogs, we probably choose a dog and would keep it no matter what a doctor would say!  So it would be almost impossible, and heart breaking, to adopt a dog, have a doctor check him, and then if he had major health issues, offer him back for adoption.  Most people would want to keep him!

Yes, you said it right.That is why I told it is a difficult proposition.Affinity towards animals differs with each individual.Some may like larger breeds where as others may like smaller ones.Many may have breed and gender preferences also.So determining age will be quite complex.But at the end of the day it is your liking towards a particular animal that matters the most.The greatest thing of all is your mind for adopting a rescue and your concern towards fellow living beings.Wish you all the best.

Thanks and regards

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Dr S Bindu Anand


Large and Small Animal Medicine and Surgery, Farm Management,Preventive medicine


A Senior Veterinary Surgeon with more than 25 years’ experience in the field of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry. Mixed animal Practice that will utilize my skills in medicine and surgery, public health, client relations, and developing relationships within the community, such as humane society

Veterinary Consultant with Department of Animal Resources,Ministry of Environment,State of Qatar (Present). Animal Husbandry Department, Government of Kerala, India. Oakland's Park, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom. Severnside Veterinary Center, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom. Saud Bahwan Group, Sultanate of Oman. Trivandrum Regional Co-operative Milk Producers Union,Kerala,India.

BVSc & AH (Bachelor of Veterinary Science and Animal Husbandry) 1990. College of Veterinary & Animal Sciences, Mannuthy, Thrissur, Kerala, India under Kerala Agricultural University. Certificates Of Accomplishments- Equine Nutrition- University of Edinburgh Principles of Public Health-University of California, Irvine. AIDS- Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. General Environmental Health – EPHOC-Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. Food Protection-EPHOC-Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. Zoonoses:University of Minnesota-School of Public Health online. Food Safety:University of Minnesota-School of Public Health online. Occupational Safety and Health-EPHOC-Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. Rabies Educator Certified -Global Alliance for Rabies Control. Animal Handler & Vaccinator Educator Certified -Global Alliance for Rabies Control. Wildlife Conservation-United for Wildlife. Health Promotion & Disease Prevention-Boston University School of Public Health. Bioterrorism, Bioterrorism Preparedness-EPHOC-Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. Good Clinical Practice-London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

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