As much as we hate to see it, our pets grow old, and eventually need extra care and attention to maintain their overall health. It is important to remember that age is not a disease and although your pets develop age-related diseases as they age, there are ways to maintain their health through these moments. This can mainly be done through regular vet examinations and lifestyle accommodations.
When are pets considered seniors?
This answer varies for different animals. Cats are considered to be senior after they reach 10 years of age, while dogs vary due to their variation in size. Larger dogs tend to have shorter life spans than smaller dogs. According to the AVMA, pets are considered senior once they reach the last 25% of their estimated lifespan, which translates to the following ages:
Small toy breeds (less than 20 pounds): 8-11 years
Medium-sized (20-50 pounds): 8-10 years
Large breeds (50-90 pounds): 8-9 years
Giant Breeds (more than 90 pounds): 6-7 years
Check out this article from American Kennel Club for more info on the ages of specific dog breeds, and what they need to stay healthy.
Common signs of aging in pets
There are many visual and behavioral signs that can inform you of your pet's deteriorating health as they grow older. While some may be obvious, others may not be, which is why it is important to monitor your pet's health once they start getting older. Common signs of aging include:
Arthritis (stiff joints, favored leg, difficulty standing, resisting being touched)
Pain or discomfort
Worsening Vision or Hearing
Cognitive dysfunction (Increased reaction to loud noises, anxiety, confusion)
Changes in Sleep Patterns
Less Interest in playing
Decreased Response to voice commands
If your pet is showing any of these signs, contact or make an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss these changes and if they are warning signs for disease. There are also certain diets and foods that can help support brain function in senior animals, and your vet can help you decide which one is best for your pet.
Diseases in Senior Pets
As stated above, senior pets' immune systems are weaker than younger pets, making them more susceptible to diseases that can decrease their quality of life or lead to death. Your pet's body changes on the inside just as much as it changes on the outside as it ages. Common diseases in senior pets include:
Joint or bone disease
If left untreated, many of these diseases can be fatal, so it is important that you contact your veterinarian if your pet is displaying any unusual behavioral signs that are concerning. Catching early signs of disease can increase the chances of your pet living the full extent of their expected lifespan.
What you can do to maintain your senior pet's health
Senior pets are more vulnerable to aging-related issues, including certain diseases. They require more overall attention than younger pets, as changes in behavior are unavoidable, and can inform you on what kind of care your older pets need. In general, senior pets require the following to keep up their quality of life:
Increased Veterinary care and bloodwork: Visit the vet twice or more a year and get bloodwork done
Altered Diet and nutrition: Provide food that is easier to digest and provides more energy
Weight Control: Weight gain and loss are signs of concern and can increase the risk of health problems
Parasite Control: Senior pets have weaker immune systems and cannot fight parasites as easily
Vaccination: Seniors pets have different vaccination requirements than younger pets
Maintaining Mobility: Keep pets healthy through appropriate exercises
Mental Health: Interact with them to keep their minds stimulated as their cognitive abilities slow down
Altered Environment: Adjust their living spaces to reduce the risk of injury (Ex. limiting stair access, orthopedic beds, raised feeding platforms, pet stairs or ramps)
Reproductive Diseases: Non-neutered/non-spayed pets are at higher risk of contracting breast, prostate, and testicular cancer.
Age is not a disease, and it is important to remember that as your pet gets older, it will face challenges to its health, and it is up to you to help them through whatever they go through. It is key to monitor their behavior as they age for anything strange, so you are able to accommodate them and catch any early signs of disease. If you have any questions or want to learn more, call us at 559-434-5470, or reference more articles such as this one.
Central Animal Hospital. Senior Pet Care FAQ
American Veterinary Medical Association. Caring for senior cats and dogs