With advances in veterinary medical care and improved diets, our furry friends are living longer than ever before. Many of us are living with “seniors!”
Defining a pet as a “senior,” however, is not simple. There are many breed- and species-related differences. Generally speaking, cats are considered to be senior when they are over the age 11 and dogs when they turn 8. With the shorter lifespan of large breed dogs, they are considered seniors at 6 years of age.
Cats and dogs age much faster than humans. While it’s not as simple as 1 human year = 7 dog years, we can estimate the human age equivalent of our pets. For example, a 7-year-old dog is equivalent to a 44 to 56-year-old human, while a 15-year-old dog is equivalent to a 76 to 115-year-old human! A 7-year-old cat is equivalent to a 54-year-old human, while a 20-year-old cat is equivalent to a 97-year-old human!
If you take your pet, for example, your cat, to your veterinarian only every 2 or 3 years, it would be like you going to your doctor for a check-up every 8 to 10 years! As your pet ages, it becomes even more important to take him to your veterinarian for regular wellness checks. Hand in hand with a longer life span comes a host of age-related conditions.
Some conditions that aging cats and dogs can experience include:
- reduced muscle tone (from less exercise with more sleeping)
- lack of interest in eating (due to reduced sense of smell and taste)
- dental disease
- age-related changes in liver, kidney, and digestive tract functions
- loss of hearing
- vision impairment
Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian if you notice any changes in your pet’s behavior, urination or defecation habits, sleeping habits, weight, exercise tolerance, or skin and coat condition. Your veterinarian will perform a senior wellness check which may include a complete physical exam, dental check, body condition score, pain assessment, bloodwork, urinalysis, and nutrition review. Some of these evaluations allow your veterinarian to detect disease before obvious signs are present, enabling earlier care and treatment.
Your veterinarian will make recommendations as needed for the following:
- pain control for arthritis (which may include supplements, medications, or other therapies)
- an exercise plan (to keep your pet mobile and reduce weight)
- a nutrition plan (to meet changing nutritional needs and ensure appropriate portions)
- dental care (to maintain optimal oral health)
- adjustments in your home (to meet changes with mobility, vision, etc.)
- mental health (to stimulate your pet and keep him mentally active)
Senior pets are a joy to have in our lives. They have been with us through good times and bad. Give them the special attention they need to help them age well and with grace.