As pets age, they tend to show it slowly; perhaps your Border Collie isn’t as quick to catch the thrown tennis ball as she used to be, or your feisty tabby cat is simply watching the birds outside the window rather than chittering at them. As your pet approaches his senior years, don’t assign him to the canine or feline equivalent of the rocking chair! With your help, your pet can still be healthy and active on into old age.
When is Your Pet a Senior?
Opinions vary greatly as to when a pet is considered a senior pet. However, most agree a housecat who is ten to twelve years old is edging into that territory. Some aren’t showing many signs at this age, but most are probably slowing down a bit.
With dogs, there is a tremendous difference in the speed of aging depending on the size of the dog. Small dogs tend to age much more slowly than giant breed dogs. A small dog, up to twenty pounds, is considered a senior by ten to twelve years of age. A medium sized dog, twenty to forty-five to fifty pounds, is a senior at eight to ten years of age.
A large breed dog, from fifty to eighty pounds, is a senior by eight to ten years of age.
Giant breed dogs, however, grow older much more rapidly and are considered seniors at five to six years of age.
Keep that Brain Sharp
Cognitive Dysfunction (CD), also known as the canine equivalent of Alzheimer’s disease, affects almost half of all dogs and cats as they age. It causes confusion, disorientation, memory problems, and problems with housetraining and sometimes even eating.
There is no cure for CD, although medication can sometimes slow its progress. However, keeping your pet’s brain active and your pet involved in the family can slow the disease’s onset.
Continue training, even fun things like trick training, on into your older dog’s sunset years. Play games with your dog and cat. Introduce food dispensing toys and brain games. Keep your pet active physically and mentally.
Keep the Weight Off
As your pet ages it’s common for them to gain weight. As muscle mass decreases and the metabolism slows, while food intake remains the same, the chances of your pet becoming obese increase.
Again, keeping your pet active will help your pet maintain a healthy weight. Activities may need to change from vigorous ones to more moderate ones but staying active is everything. In addition, feeding slightly less of your pet’s normal food and changing from high calorie treats to those with fewer calories will also help.
Arthritis is Common
It’s not unusual for both dogs and cats to develop arthritis as they grow older. It is suspected there is a genetic component in developing this disease, but those pets who were very active in their younger years are also more apt to develop arthritis when seniors.
The first signs are usually soreness in the morning or after waking up from a nap. They may stretch more to loosen up those joints and stiff muscles. Both dogs and cats may be willing to jump less.
Encouraging your pet to get up and move several times during the day will help keep him mobile. Playing games your pet is willing to play will help, too. You may want to get a ramp that will help your dog into and out of the car and one to help your dog to get up onto furniture. There are medications and supplements that will slow the progression of the disease; talk to your veterinarian about these.
Dulling of the Senses
Many older pets, especially dogs, develop cataracts as they age. This gradually clouds the vision until eventually no light gets into the eyes at all. Today, cataract surgery is available for dogs just as it is for people.
Unfortunately, hearing aids aren’t yet available for dogs who lose their hearing. This, too, is common in both older dogs and cats.
If your older pet is losing his hearing and eyesight, keep in mind his nose works just fine. It’s rare that aging dulls the sense of smell. A simple way to make sure your old friend can still navigate the house is to use drops of essential oils to identify certain rooms of the house or pathways.
Talk to Your Veterinarian
Consider your veterinarian as your partner in your older pet’s health care. It’s recommended that senior pets see their vet twice a year, as your pet’s health can change significantly in a short period of time. Have a list of questions or concerns and talk about them with your vet. After all, when asking about your treasured old pet, there is no such things as a silly question. Ask it!
By: Liz Palika