An increasing number of pet parents regard their pets as “members of the family,” and they’re providing the best nutrition, exercise and veterinary care possible. And the reward is awesome – our senior pets are living longer. This, however, brings challenges and more pronounced age-related health issues.
November is Senior Pet Month and the perfect time to begin planning the road ahead.
According the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), cats and small dogs are generally considered to be geriatric at the age of seven. And larger breed dogs, who tend to have shorter life spans, are considered senior pets at about six years. Whoa! What?
The numbers won’t make sense to most of us. We’ve seen dogs and cats live much longer because of the care we’ve provided. Now, it’s about the special care our senior pets will need going forward.
Geriatric pets can develop many of the same conditions people do, including cancer, heart disease, kidney/urinary tract disease, liver disease, diabetes, joint or bone disease, senility and general fatigue or weakness. And while older pets usually require more visits to the veterinarian, those visits can be helpful in creating an environment of increased attention. We’ll be better able to make changes around the house or in nutrition.
- Senior pets should have semiannual veterinary visits instead of annual visits so signs of illness or other problems can be detected early and treated.
- Geriatric pets often need foods that are more readily digested, and have different calorie levels, ingredients and anti-aging nutrients.
- Pet parents should monitor their pet’s weight. Weight gain in geriatric dogs increases the risk of health problems, whereas weight loss is a bigger concern for geriatric cats.
- Older pets’ immune systems are not as healthy as those of younger animals so as a result, they can’t fight off diseases or heal as fast as younger pets.
- We should keep older pets mobile through appropriate exercise.
- A pet’s vaccination needs may change with age and a veterinarian can make recommendations to discontinue vaccinations or add new ones.
- Like in humans, the progression of senility can be slowed through interactions for mental health.
Most commonly, we’ll need to make lifestyle or environmental changes for senior pets. Stairs may need to be avoided along with jumping onto furniture, for example. We pet parents know our pets best and are best equipped to notice changes in behavior or health as they come. Changes in normal behaviors should be noted and reported to a veterinarian.