Today, pets are living longer thanks to improvements in medicine, pet care, nutrition, and increased awareness of pet health and safety. This makes it more important for pet caretakers to understand the life of a senior pet. Similar to humans, as animals age they need extra care and attention. By being proactive in your pet’s senior care, you can help them to live a long and healthy life.
When does my pet become a senior?
You might be surprised, but no age officially makes a pet a senior. The aging process varies from pet to pet and depends on factors such as breed, species, size, lifestyle, and environment. Generally speaking, most cats and small animals including small breed dogs and rabbits are considered senior by the age of seven while larger dog breeds may be considered senior by the age of five or six. The senior age for birds and reptiles can vary as well depending on the life expectancy of the species.
Common Senior Health Conditions
While you may be able to spot the physical signs of your pet’s age from his graying coat or slowed pace, it can be difficult to notice the changes happening in your pet’s health. Similar to humans, senior pets are more likely to develop certain conditions such as heart disease, arthritis, or cancer. The following are some of the common medical conditions we diagnose in middle-aged and senior pets:
- Arthritis – Arthritis refers to a group of conditions caused by joint inflammation. Signs of arthritis may include stiffness, hesitancy to move, favoring a limb, or vocalization when touched in certain areas of inflammation.
- Cancer – In pets, the likelihood of cancer increases with age. The most common types of cancer in cats include squamous cell carcinoma, lymphoma, and soft-tissue sarcoma. Dogs present most often with hemangiosarcoma, lymphosarcoma, and osteosarcoma. Signs of cancer may include difficulty breathing, changes in eating patterns, lumps, bumps, discolored skin, non-healing wounds, unexplained swelling, heating, or lameness, as well as visible masses or swollen areas.
- Cognitive Dysfunction – Also known as senility, cognitive dysfunction refers to the age-related deterioration of mental abilities. Signs of cognitive dysfunction in pets may include disorientation, anxiety, changes in sleep patterns, increased wandering, and forgetfulness of tricks or skills already learned.
- Diabetes – Age, excess weight, genetics, and several other factors can cause the pancreas to produce inadequate amounts of insulin, which gives your pet energy. Signs of diabetes in pets include irritability, increased need to urinate, fatigue, unintended weight loss, and distorted vision.
- Heart Disease – Heart disease progresses slowly in most pets making it difficult to recognize on your own. Signs to look for include slow recovery from exercise, rapid breathing, coughing, and lethargy.
- Hyperthyroidism – Hyperthyroidism is caused by the overproduction of thyroid hormones that increase the body’s rate of metabolism, resulting in weight loss and increased appetite. This disease also often leads to hypertension or high blood pressure. Other symptoms may include increased thirst and urination, a rough or unkept hair coat, increased vocalization, and poor body condition.
- Kidney Disease – Kidney disease, similar to heart disease, can also be a slow progression that may not be obvious to the owner. Signs to look for include lethargy, decreased appetite, increased thirst, and changes in urination patterns.
How can I help my pet stay healthy as he ages?
Talk to your veterinarian about how to care for your pet as he or she ages and be prepared for possible age-related health conditions. Senior pets, just like humans, require extra attention and care as well as more frequent visits to the vet. Here are some considerations to be aware of as your pet ages:
Physical and behavioral changes
Changes in behavior are often the first indications of age. These changes may be a part of the normal aging process or due to an underlying health condition. Some behavior changes to look out for include hearing or vision loss, anxiety, house soiling, increased wandering, disorientated behavior, unusual signs of aggression, and changes in sleep patterns.
If your pet becomes less active or shows signs of having trouble with daily activities, this may be an indication of arthritis or another medical condition and should be addressed by your veterinarian.
Diet and Exercise
Weight can have a tremendous effect on your pet’s health. Regular exercise and healthy nutrition are important parts of helping maintain a healthy weight for your pet. Your pet’s diet may need to change as well with age. Senior pets often need food that is easily digestible and different in calorie levels and ingredients to help with the aging process and lower the risk of developing certain health ailments.
Although your pet may not be as fast or nimble as before, exercise is still essential to pet health. Regular walks and playtime should be kept up as much as possible while he ages, but pet parents should also be mindful of their pet’s activity level and fatigue rate during play.
Obesity in older pets can increase their risk of respiratory problems, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, and cancer. Sudden weight loss may also be a cause for concern, especially in cats. If you notice any sudden changes in your pet’s weight, contact your vet.
A senior pet’s needs will change subtly over the years and alterations to the environment may be required to improve your senior cat’s quality of life. Some recommendations we have for you:
- Set up pet ramps or steps to aid them in getting to their favorite spots
- Make sure items such as feeders, pet beds, and litter boxes are adjusted in height and structure, so they are more accessible to elderly pets
- Provide extra light at night for them to feel more secure moving around in the dark
Although senior pets may be prone to developing age-related conditions, good preventative care allows them to continue to live an active, healthy life into their senior years. We recommend visiting a veterinarian at least twice a year for routine wellness exams. This allows your vet to detect and treat any new health conditions as soon as possible.
Remember, our pets can’t tell us when they are in pain or need help. It is important as a pet parent to do your part in being mindful of your pet’s behavior and activity as he ages. Together, we will develop a great plan to ensure your pet lives a long and healthy life. For more information on senior pet care awareness or to schedule a consultation, contact Hunt Valley Animal Hospital today.