Due to improved veterinary care and dietary advancements, pets are living longer now than they ever have before. One consequence of this is that pets and their owners are faced with a whole new set of age-related conditions. In recent years there has been extensive research on the problems facing older pets and how we can best handle their special needs.
Cats and small dogs are generally considered to be of senior age after the age of 9. Larger breed dogs tend to have shorter life spans and are considered geriatric when they are approximately 6 years of age.
Aging pets can develop many of the same problems seen in older people, such as
Here are some basic considerations when caring for older pets:
- Increased veterinary care: Senior pets should have a thorough exam every 6 months due to the fact that they are aging much faster than humans and their bodies are changing rapidly. Biannual check ups allow problems to be detected early.
- Diet: Senior pets generally need a more digestible food that contains a higher level of nutrients and anti-oxidants. Their digestive systems often become unable to process some of the fillers in a lot of lower quality foods.
- Parasite control: Older pets’ immune systems are not as healthy as those of younger animals and cannot fight the ongoing exposure to parasites such as fleas, ticks, and intestinal worms, as well. Regular parasite control is important in preventing illness.
- Vaccination: Pet owners often feel that their aging pet does not need to be vaccinated as frequently. However, due to their weaker immune system, aging pets are actually at a greater risk for infectious diseases compared to younger ones, so regular vaccination is still important.
- Mobility: Weight control and proper exercise are important factors in keeping your pet mobile as he or she ages. You may have to make adjustments to your pet’s environment as well. Older dogs often can’t get good traction on hard floors, and placing several inexpensive rugs or mats can greatly help extend their mobility.
- Mental health: Pets can show signs of senility. Confusion, disruption of routines, and anxiety are common symptoms. Stimulating them through play and interactions helps slow down this process. Fish oil and anti-oxidant supplementation can also help maintain brain health.
- Cancer: Cancer is responsible for approximately half the deaths of pets over 10 years of age. Common signs of cancer in pets include rapid weight loss, fatigue, loss of appetite, abnormal sores or swellings, difficulty breathing or moving, and offensive mouth odor.
Age in itself is not a disease, and making a few relatively simple changes combined with early detection care, can greatly improve your pet’s quality of life as well as overall lifespan. Talk to your veterinary team about what you can do to optimize the care for your older pet.