I’m wondering if dogs, like humans, get smaller or shorter in old age. I recently saw a family member’s 15-year-old terrier that I hadn’t seen in six months. She was noticeably smaller in the face and legs, almost as if she’d shrunk! She had all her teeth removed a year ago and that may have added to her change in face structure. I have raised my concern with the owner, but the dog still seems happy and she saw a vet recently about another issue and they didn’t say anything.

Wolfgang Dohne advises….

Due to us walking on two legs in an upright position, gravity takes its toll on our height and we get shorter even during a single day. You can check this at home by measuring yourself in the morning and then again at night and you might also find that you have to adjust the rear-view mirror in your car when driving home after work because of this effect. In addition, as we get older, the discs between the vertebrae in our backs get drier and less elastic, and the result is a permanent loss of height. In dogs who walk on four limbs, this plays a lesser role and there is not the same loss of height. Of much greater importance in dogs is the progressive loss of muscle bulk due to less exercise and due to the more limited capacity of an older body to build up untrained muscles. Your relative’s dog is a good example – although probably still in reasonable health, the severe dental disease necessitating the extraction of the teeth made her less likely to chew and, in the end, the jaw muscles are now only used for the occasional uptake of probably softer food.

Her dental disease might also have affected her heart or her liver, resulting in a reduced ability and willingness to exercise, which has caused a general loss of muscle bulk, visible on her limbs and on her back. This would have given you the impression that she had shrunk. This is a good reminder of how important the dental health of a dog is and why vets persist to have dogs’ teeth checked on a regular basis.

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