Trying to figure out your new dog’s age? Without her birthday, it might be impossible. But you might be able to ballpark it by looking at her teeth or coat.

By Austin Cannon
August 24, 2020
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With regular well-dog checks and preventative care measures, a dachshund can live a long, happy life.
Maisie Paterson / Getty

We’ll get the bad news out of the way first: There’s no “surefire” way to tell how old your dog is without knowing at least her approximate birthday or birth year. 

That’s according to Julie Tasch, the Dogtown team lead at Best Friends Animal Society sanctuary in Utah. But, if you rescued your pup or took her in from the street, there are clues to how old she might be. It’s worth pursuing those clues so you can target your dog’s food and care to the right age. 

“It's important to know your dog's age, especially if they are under 6 months old. If they are this young, they should be on puppy food and you'll want to make sure they've received all of their vaccinations,” Tasch says. 

You’ll want to know if your dog is approaching old age as well. If your vet estimates your dog to be senior, you may consider switching her to a senior food with fewer calories and added supplements to reduce joint pain, Tasch says. Plus, older dogs need more regular vet visits. 

Check the Teeth

Tasch says the Best Friends staff will look at a dog’s teeth to get an idea of how old she is. It’s the best way to get an estimate, so your vet will likely do the same.

“The more tartar, discoloration, or broken teeth, generally means an older dog,” she says. “However, it’s still a guess. Poor nutrition at a young age or broken teeth due to trauma, could be misleading in aging a younger dog.”

The teeth method is best for guessing the age of puppies younger than six months. They’re still developing their chompers, so you can make a “pretty good guess” based on the stage of their teeth, Tasch says. 

Genetics can also make that harder, says veterinarian Erin Chu, DVM. Smaller breeds can contract more dental diseases than their larger friends, and some dogs can just have clean, tartar-free teeth into their senior years. 

Other Clues to Your Dog’s Age

Along with the teeth, Tasch says your pup’s graying face might indicate that she’s old, but that comes with a caveat, too. Just like humans, dogs can see their hair gray prematurely. 

Chu says that owners can also look at their dog’s eyes to check if they’ve become hazy or contracted cataracts. Check your dog’s body, too, to see if there are fat pads on her lower back or whether her spine is more prominent, other potential signs of a senior dog. 

Activity level is another sign of your dog’s age. Younger dogs are more active than their elders, who might have trouble with stares or sleep more than normal.

So if you do end up adopting that stray you found wandering around the neighborhood, a guess is about as good as you’ll get. “By looking at teeth and the dog's general physical appearance, you can generally make a pretty good guess at placing the dog into a category of either puppy, young adult, adult, or senior,” Tasch says. “But specific ages are nearly impossible to determine.”

Does a Dog DNA Test Tell Age?

Nope, sorry. According to Embark, which sells dog DNA tests, the test can help determine the genetic age of your dog, but they can’t figure out your dog’s calendar/biological age. 

If you’re sad you can’t celebrate your dog’s real birthday, we suggest instead breaking out the party hats on her adoption day—a pet gotcha day—and celebrating then. 

Plus, there’s a one-in-365 chance you picked her actual birthday!