Caring for Older Pets
3/22/2016, 9:56 p.m.
Pets are more than just our companions—they are a part of the family. As your pet ages, it is important to consult your veterinarian for help providing the proper care for your senior pet’s changing needs.
Every animal is different, so the senior life stage occurs at different ages in different pets. For instance, dogs are typically considered seniors at seven years old, but older dogs age quicker than smaller dogs. Cats can be considered mature at 7 years and seniors at 11 years old. Breed and species aside, your pet’s genetics, nutrition, health, and environment will ultimately determine when your pet is considered a senior.
One of the telltale signs of increasing age in pets is a decline in physical activity. For instance, previously active pets may not play as much and both dogs and cats may need assistance climbing on and off the bed or couch. Dr. Stacy Eckman, clinical assistant professor of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), explained when pet owners can expect this transition into senior pet behavior. “A decrease in physical activity depends on the breed, size, and genetics of the pet,” she said. “However, some older pets are still quite active in their senior years.”
In addition to a decrease in physical activity, older cats and dogs tend to develop more degenerative health problems. “Chronic degenerative disorders like heart and kidney disease are common in older pets, and so is cancer,” Eckman said. “In cats, kidney, heart, and thyroid disease are the most common aging conditions. In dogs, different breeds are more prone to certain conditions. For example, some breeds are more likely to see a dramatic increase in cancers as they age.” A visit to the veterinarian every six months can help determine what is normal for your pet so that any changes in behavior or health can be detected early.
Aging cats and dogs are also prone to arthritis, dental disease, loss of sight and hearing, and a decrease in mobility. Just like humans, pets may need more assistance getting around and taking care of themselves. Despite this change in mobility and physical activity, it is important to keep your dog and cat active to slow the progression of joint pain and arthritis. In addition, a healthy diet that adequately nourishes your pet is also key in reducing your pet’s risk for obesity, which can also contribute to joint pain. “The single most important aspect in helping your pet stay as happy and healthy for as long as possible is maintaining a healthy weight throughout their lifetime,” Eckman said. “A healthy weight should be coupled with regular exercise and activity.”
Perhaps the hardest part about having an aging furry best friend is accepting when they are no longer happy in everyday life. It is never easy to let go of a pet, but in some cases, euthanasia is the most humane option. “Making the decision to euthanatize a pet is a personal and difficult decision,” Eckman said. “The decision is dependent on what signs and symptoms the pet is showing or what disorder the pet is experiencing. When owners are questioning if they should euthanize their pet, they should discuss it with their veterinarian to help guide the decision-making process. At the CVM, we typically have owners think of three to five specific characteristics of their pet, and when the pet stops doing these things, then it may be time to consider euthanasia. For example, my dog loves to play ball. When he stops playing or does not get joy out of this any longer, that would raise concerns for me.”
As much as we would love our pets to live forever, they grow old and need special care. To ensure your pet lives a long, healthy life, be sure to visit your veterinarian regularly to discuss your pet’s diet, exercise habits, and overall health.