Special needs of older pets – News – Holland Sentinel
By Dr. Joanna Bronson
There’s no escaping the aging process. Our senior dogs and cats don’t complain like we do, but they do suffer from some of the same age markers as their human counterparts. Knee and back pain, diminished eyesight, weight gain, and fatigue are the most notable signs of aging.
Animals are labeled as being “senior” at a much faster rate than humans, although the rating depends on the species and breeds of animals.
Small dogs are usually classified as senior around 8 years of age, whereas larger dogs might be senior candidates as early as 5-6 years of age.
Of course, some animals break the norm and far outlive what’s classified as “normal.” The oldest recorded dog lived to be 29, and the oldest cat was 34.
These charts compare pet’s ages with those of humans:
Cat years compared to human years
7 in cat years =54 human years
10 in cat years=63 human years
15 in cat years=78 human years
20 in cat years=97 human years
Dog years compared to human years
7 in dog years=44-56 in human years
10 in dog years=56-78 in human years
15 in dog years=76-115 in human years
20 in dog years=96-120 in human years
These ranges take into account the general health of the pet and the activity levels, as more active pets score lower on the age scale due to their better health.
It is a fact that larger dogs do age faster than smaller dogs.
Still all animals will eventually show obvious signs of aging that may include some or all or the following signs:
clouding of the eyes, vision loss;
thinning and graying hair coat;
weight gain or loss;
changes in appetite and thirst and dietary intolerance;
decreased grooming behavior;
intolerance of temperature extremes;
slower reaction times;
confusion and forgetfulness;
desire for more human attention.
Behavior changes might also accompany physical changes and may result in disorientation, interaction changes, sleep/wake cycle changes, and house soiling.
Remember, aging pets do not have control over these changes and are not being “bad” when these problems are manifested.
Pets can also may suffer from arthritis, cancer, diabetes, heart, kidney, and liver disease, and senility.
Aging cannot be avoided, but it can be made easier with awareness and compassion. Senior pets still need exercise, although a slow walk should replace more rambunctious activities.
Weight control of senior pets is essential to avoid extra strain on tendons, bones, the heart, kidneys, and the overall immune system. When older dogs become overweight, their chance of disease also increases. However, weight loss is a bigger concern for geriatric cats.
Senior pets need more digestible proteins as they age. Senior food has been specifically designed for that purpose. However, it is important that “grain-free” food is avoided for all dogs, as it has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. They may also need specialized supplements for joint support and other issues.
Oral care cannot be neglected. Plaque and tarter can affect the whole animal and send toxins throughout his system.
Predictable, calming routines, enriching activities, and social interactions will help keep Fido content. Exercise is essential. Short walks and less strenuous activities are necessary to keep pets healthy.
As our pets age, they need more care in the form of more frequent visits to the veterinarian. These semi-annual recommended visits should be more in-depth and include dental care, possible bloodwork, and specific checks for signs of illness that affect senior pets.
Older animals cannot fight disease as readily as younger animals. Nor do they heal as fast. Parasite control is very important for any pet, but especially for seniors.
Vaccination requirements for geriatric pets may also change. Your veterinarian can help make recommendations for your senior pet.
Senility can develop resulting in behavorial changes which may be helped with medication. Keeping a set routine of feeding, exercise, and grooming will help pets feel safe and confident.
Environmental changes may have to be slowly implemented. Sleeping areas should be arranged to avoid climbing stairs. Senior pets may need more indoor time, especially in inclement weather. They need easy access to food and water. Strategically placed ramps, rugs to avoid slipping, and solid barriers will help keep pets safe.
As always, non-neutered/non-spayed geriatric pets are at a higher risk for developing mammary, testicular, and prostate cancers.
Ultimately, senior pets need more attention, love, care, and reassurance from their owners as they age.
Dr. Joanna Bronson of Bronson Veterinary Services, located at 452 W. Central Road, Coldwater. Contact her at (517) 369-2161 or visit www.bronsonvetservices.vetstreet.com.