Senior Pet Care for Older Dogs & Cats
Is My Pet Just Getting Old?
Just like people, our pets live longer today, with better quality lives, than they ever have. They are better fed, better housed, and watched by more knowledgeable owners. Owners have instant access to internet information about their pets’ health. And, just like human medicine, modern veterinary medicine and technology deliver superior care when pets do have health problems.
The percentage of geriatric dogs and cats has risen over the last several decades. Owners want their pets to live longer and are more willing today to invest in the care required to maintain a good quality of life for their dogs and cats.
Longer pet lives mean more opportunity for geriatric health problems to develop, and more opportunity for owners to see changes as their pets age. As pets become geriatric, owners often quietly ask themselves “Is my pet just getting old?”
How Old is Old?
Historically, a rule of thumb was that each year dogs and cats age the human equivalent of seven years. More recent guidelines help owners understand that small dogs and cats age more slowly than large dogs. In general, large dogs are considered geriatric by age 6 and small dogs and cats by age 7. By age 15, cats are the human equivalent of 77, small dogs 85, and large dogs 100.
Again is Not a Disease!
Aging produces slow changes in pets, just like in people. Geriatric pets show many of the same mental and physical changes that people experience as the years go by. But aging is not a disease, and normal aging changes must be distinguished from specific health problems for which care is available.
What Are Some Indications My Geriatric Pet Has a Problem?
Aging changes tend to occur gradually, so any sudden change in a pet’s behavior, appetite, eliminations, or activity may indicate a problem. Slower changes may be more difficult to detect. Since our pets can’t communicate verbally and describe how they feel, owner should look for clues that indicate progressive change that may affect quality of life:
- Irritability or not joining the family
- Disinterest in previously enjoyed activities
- Decreased appetite
- Changes in eliminations
- Stiffness, soreness, or a limp
- Reluctance or difficulty in rising after lying or sitting down
- Reluctance to go up or down steps or stairs or to get on or off furniture.
- Changes in eye expression such as staring, having a vacant look, or squinting
Our pets’ historical survival (as predators that were also prey) depended on them appearing strong and healthy. That instinct continues today with dogs and cats not always showing signs of illness or disease until quality of life has significantly reduced.