Pets are the definition of selfless. They love you, and they love your children. You and your family are their world.
In exchange for their unconditional love, though, they need you to take care of their needs: food, shelter, a warm bed. Your care and devotion are critical to them as they age.
But how do you know when your pet is considered “old”? What types of health care issues might they encounter? And will they need extra care as they age? We discuss these things so that your pet can age gracefully with special attention to their health needs.
When is My Pet Considered “Old”?
Pets are just like people in that they are living longer than ever thanks to medical improvements. But pets are also different when it comes to defining if they are a “senior.” A pet’s species and size play factors in determining how they age.
Senior Life Stages for Cats
A cat can be considered a senior between the ages of seven to 11 years old. In terms of people years, a seven-year-old cat is equivalent to a 54-year old human. A 15-year old cat is equivalent to a 78-year old human.
Senior Life Stages for Dogs
Small dogs can live as long as 20 years. Giant dogs can be considered seniors after only five or six years. Medium and large dogs can be regarded as seniors by ages seven to eight.
- A seven-year-old small to medium dog is equivalent to a human in their mid to late 40s
- A seven-year-old large to giant dog is equivalent to a human in their early to mid-50s.
- A 15-year old small to medium dog is equivalent to a human between the ages of 76 – 83.
- A 15-year old large to giant dog is equivalent to a human between the ages of 93 – 115.
A dog’s size has a lot to do with how they age.
Potential Health Issues in Senior Pets
A senior pet can come down with specific health-related issues as they age. These conditions can require medical treatments – along with a lot of love and care from their owner – to return to a better quality of life.
- Vision Loss – Pets can suffer a vision decrease from aging just like humans can. The vision loss could be due to cataracts or glaucoma. Cataracts can be addressed through a surgical procedure.
- Hearing Loss – If hearing becomes an issue, your pet might need to be screened for ear canal inflammation. To compensate for a loss in hearing, you might have to use hand signals to communicate with your pet.
- Dental Health – Your pet can suffer from dental issues that affect the teeth and gums. That can lead to bigger health problems involving the liver, heart, and respiratory system. Dental issues can also complicate a pet’s ability to eat. Avoid dental problems with regular brushing and tooth cleanings by your veterinarian.
- Arthritis – Dogs and cats can suffer from arthritis, a degenerative joint disease. However, large dogs are more prone to develop it. Arthritis affects a pet’s mobility. They’ll display difficulty going up and down steps, jumping up onto the couch or bed, and climbing into your car. Anti-inflammatory medications, moderate exercise, and weight control are all ways to cope with arthritis.
- Cancer – Cancer is more common in older pets than younger ones. Both dogs and cats are susceptible to developing Lymphoma. Dogs tend to be more at risk for breast, bone, and skin cancer.
- Kidney Disease – Kidney failure is common in older cats. As with any health issue, the earlier the condition is detected, the better your pet’s prognosis. Medications, fluid therapy, and a special diet are all treatments used to combat it.
How to Help Your Senior Pet Age Well
Some pets will develop medical conditions such as the ones listed above. Others will simply require lifestyle changes that result from the aging process. Here are some age-related changes that you’ll have to help your senior pet manage.
Older dogs can put on unhealthy weight as they age and become less active. That weight can lead to health issues caused by excess pressure on their joints. The opposite is true with older cats. They are more at risk of weight loss. Talk to your vet about strategies for helping your pet maintain a healthy weight.
Older pets might need adjustments to their daily activities. If stairs become a problem, their sleeping area might need to be relocated. If your pet is disabled, discuss home environment changes with your vet. Supplements can also help with the joint discomfort that restricts their movement.
An older pet’s immune system won’t be as strong as younger pets. So they won’t be able to fight off health issues such as parasites or other diseases as well. Make sure your pet is up-to-date with preventative pest and disease control.
The aging process will naturally slow your pet down. It can also affect their ability to walk, run, and jump. Helping them maintain an exercise regimen will keep them healthy and mobile. You can do this with interactive toys and feeding toys that require a little more movement for great reward.
Diet and Nutrition
Senior pets can have digestive issues as they age. Their daily calorie requirements might change too. Talk to your vet about dietary changes with regards to caloric intake and food ingredients. With less mobility and exercise, their portions need to be carefully controlled to avoid weight gain.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) is a form of mental health decline in pets, similar to Alzheimer’s in humans. Like Alzheimer’s there is no cure for CCD. Stimulate their brains with interactive toys and activities to keep them mentally sharp. And feed them foods rich in antioxidants along with fruits and veggies.
Increase Veterinarian Care for Your Geriatric Pet
Senior pets should start to have regular vet checkups every six months as opposed to an annual visit. The frequency increase allows for earlier detection and treatment of health issues that arise. Senior pets need more thorough exams than younger pets to detect pending health issues. Senior pet exams should include bloodwork and dental care too.
We recognize that your pet is more than just a pet. Your pet is your four-legged family member. There’s nothing we want more than to help your pet have a long, fulfilling life with you. But taking care of an aging pet can come with some special needs. Make an appointment with one of our vets to discuss the best possible health plan for your pet. We are here to help!