Our complete guide to caring for an old Vizsla will help you enter their golden years with confidence. We’ll look at when a Vizsla officially counts as old, the most nutritious diet for elderly dogs, how to exercise them safely, and how to protect their health for as long as possible.
- How long do Vizslas live?
- When is a Vizsla officially elderly?
- How do Vizslas change in old age?
- Caring for a senior Vizsla
- Feeding an older Vizsla
- Your aging Vizsla’s health
An old Vizsla may need a special diet, or some adjustments to their daily routine to help them thrive in their senior years. There are also several age-related health conditions owners should look out for. But old age itself isn’t an illness, and there are lots of ways you can help make this stage of their life just as special and rewarding as the years before it.
On average, pet dogs today live 70% longer than they did 90 years ago. This is partly due to things like advances in veterinary care, and owners being more likely to regard their dog as a member of the family. With increasing numbers of dogs enjoy a longer old age, there’s a lot for us to learn about how to care for them during that period!
How long do Vizslas live?
Surveys of life expectancy in Vizslas have produced some surprisingly variable results. A study conducted by the Vizsla Club of America in 2008 found that their average lifespan of 400 Vizsla had been 9 years and 2 months. A smaller study in 2010 found that the average life expectancy of Wirehair Vizslas was between 9 and 10 years, whilst the average life expectancy of smooth Vizslas was 12 to 13 years. In both studies the oldest individual reached their mid- to late- teens.
To the best of our knowledge, no one has ever really explained why wirehair Vizslas have a shorter life expectancy than smooth coated Vizslas. It could be because the wirehair population is far smaller – breeding within a very small genepool is known to have a negative effect on life expectancy. In general, the average lifespan of both types compares well with other large dogs. Large dogs including Vizslas often have a shorter lifespan than medium-sized and small dogs though. The reasons aren’t fully understood yet, but it’s thought that the genetic instructions which cause dogs’ bodies to stop replenishing with new cells are triggered sooner in bigger breeds.
Interestingly, some multi-breed research has indicated that spayed and neutered dogs usually live longer than intact dogs. But one Vizsla-specific study from 2014 found that this breed is an exception. Their life expectancy is the same regardless of neuter status!
When is a Vizsla officially elderly?
Large dogs are usually regarded as senior sometime after their 5th birthday, and definitely by the time they turn 8. This might sound surprisingly young! It reflects the fact that large dogs appear to age more rapidly at a genetic level, and have observably shorter lifetimes than smaller dogs. Whether a Vizsla ought to be treated as senior from the age of 5, 6, 7 or 8 depends upon the individual. If you’re not sure whether your own Vizla counts as old yet, have a chat with your veterinarian. They will discuss any signs of old age you’ve started to see, and how best to adjust to them. Remember that meeting your dog’s needs, whatever they are and whenever they occur, is the most important thing!
How do Vizslas change in old age?
So, how can you tell when your Vizsla is starting to get old? Here are some of the ways senior Vizslas may change.
- Loss of color from their coat.
- Decreased muscle mass.
- Spending less time playing and showing less enthusiasm for walks.
- Loss of appetite.
- Showing less interest or increased anxiety around new people and unfamiliar dogs.
- Responses to training cues become less reliable.
- Diminished sense of smell (which usually shows as being slower to find dropped food).
- Onset of age-related health differences, such as sight loss, hearing loss and arthritis
- Disorientation, such as getting stuck behind objects, staring blankly, or walking into things.
- Increase in anxiety-related behaviors, such as separation anxiety, noise phobia.
- Increase in unwanted behaviors, such as toileting indoors, or barking at night.
- Changes in their sleep-wake cycle.
Some changes in behavior (for example eating less) can be a normal part of aging, but they can also be caused or made worse by treatable health problems (such as tooth ache). Despite this, some veterinarians report that their clients are less likely to bring elderly pets into their clinics. Reasons include:
- Assuming that changes in their dog are normal for an old dog, when in fact they could be partly or completely treated and reversed.
- Worry about large medical bills for older dogs.
- And fear that they won’t come home again.
In fact, maintaining a regular pattern of twice-yearly check ups throughout your Vizsla’s life is one of the best ways to ensure they are as healthy as possible for as long as possible. In a moment we’ll take a look at some of the health problems most commonly associated with old age in Vizslas. But first let’s see how you can adapt the care you give them in order to keep them as healthy as possible for as long as possible.
Caring for a senior Vizsla
Here are some small, simple change you can make, which will make a big difference to your old Vizsla’s wellbeing:
- Switch to shorter, more frequent walks. Cutting out too much exercise altogether will have an adverse effect on their body condition and heart health, and increase the rate of age-related muscle wastage. But walking for too long in one go may start to cause discomfort in an old dog’s joints. Little and often is the perfect compromise!
- Continue playing with them and using puzzle feeders like Kongs and Lickimats. ‘The brain is a muscle’ as they say, use it or lose it!
- For dogs with arthritis, get a ramp to help them in and out of the car. This also means they’re less likely to start getting left behind when you go out.
- Keep the layout in your home the same. Unless you really have too, resist the urge to move your sofa, or change where you serve their dinner. This reduces stress and anxiety caused by confusion if they can’t remember the changes.
- Take them for a veterinary exam every 6 months. To catch and start managing changes in their health promptly. I know we’ve already said it once, but it’s really important!
Feeding an older Vizsla
Dogs have different nutritional needs at different stages in their life. Veterinarians regard appropriate and adequate nutrition as one of the most important factors in maintaining health and managing disease.
As older dogs get less active, they may need less calories to stay at a healthy weight. Sometimes their appetite changes to reflect this. But kibbles and wet foods specifically formulated for older dogs tend to be less calorie-dense too, so that you have the option of keeping portion size the same without over-feeding them.
Your veterinarian might also recommend supplementing your Vizsla’s diet with omega-3 fatty acids to preserve their learning and memory ability, or glucosamine for their joints. You can buy senior diets with these supplements already added, or buy them separately. Some supplements sold in pet stores are eyewateringly expensive (manufacturers have noticed our willingness to spend money on our pets!) but options exist for all budgets. Fish oil is an extremely economical way to add omega-3 fatty acids to your Vizsla’s diet, for example.
Your aging Vizsla’s health
Aging itself – including loss of muscle mass and some changes in activity levels, behavior and sensory ability – is not a disease. But, aging is also linked to increased likelihood of being diagnosed with some diseases. These include:
- Sebaceous adenitis – a condition affecting the sebaceous glands, which causes itchy, flaky, scaly skin, and hair loss.
- Spondylosis – a degenerative condition affecting the spine.
- Enlarged prostate
- Cushings disease
- Congestive heart failure
- Anemia and blood cell abnormalities
- Laryngeal paralysis
- Cognitive disorders including canine cognitive dysfunction, senile dementia and vestibular disorder
It’s a hefty list, but if there’s one thing veterinarians really want us to appreciate, it’s that the symptoms of these diseases don’t have to just be accepted as part of aging without question. For example, some decrease in physical activity is normal, but pain caused by arthritis can be managed. Likewise, shortness of breath after exercise could be part of growing old, or it could be a symptom of laryngeal paralysis, and partly treatable with anti-inflammatory medicines.
In the end, the most common causes of death recorded for Vizslas are cancer and respiratory disease. Many cancers are thought to have a strong hereditary element in Vizslas. And deaths from respiratory disease are likely to be because as dogs get older, they get less able to fight off infections.
Your old Vizsla – summary
An adult Vizsla starts to need different care from somewhere between their 5th and 8th birthday onwards. Exactly when your dog will start to show signs of old age depends very much upon them. But there’s a lot you can do keep them healthy and strong for as long as possible, and give them a good old age. Choosing the right diet, modifying but keeping up their exercise, and attending regular check up at the vet are all vital.
Do you already have an elderly Vizsla at home? Let us know how they are – on the outside and the inside – in the comments section down below!
References and Resources
Adams et al. Methods and mortality results of a health survey of purebred dogs in the UK. Journal of Small Animal Practice. 2010.
Critchley. Practicalities of senior wellness clinics. Veterinary Nursing Journal. 2014.
Druce. Canine cognitive dysfunction – recognition and treatment. Veterinary Nursing Journal. 2014.
Evans et al. Confidential health survey of the Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla Association. 2010.
Fick et al. Telomere Length Correlates with Life Span of Dog Breeds. Cell Reports. 2012.
Fleming et al. Mortality in North American Dogs from 1984 to 2004: An Investigation into Age-, Size-, and Breed-Related Causes of Death. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. 2011.
Gibbons & Rieger. Vizsla Club of America Welfare Foundation Health Survey. 2008.
Hargrave. Behavioural first aid for elderly cats and dogs. The Veterinary Nurse. 2014.
Holt. The nutritional assessment and senior patients. Veterinary Nursing Journal. 2021.
Salvin et al. Growing old gracefully—Behavioral changes associated with “successful aging” in the dog. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour. 2011.
Zink et al. Evaluation of the risk and age of onset of cancer and behavioral disorders in gonadectomized Vizslas. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2014.
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