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Did you know that senior pets have special needs and may be faced with a new set of age-related conditions? Thanks to improved veterinary care and dietary habits, pets are now living longer than ever before. The downside to aging is the possibility of health problems and behavioral changes for your pet.
First, it’s important to understand when a pet is considered a senior. Cats and small dogs are usually considered a senior at 7 years of age. Larger breed dogs typically have shorter life spans, and are considered a senior at 6 years of age.
While there is no single calculation to put a pet’s age into human terms, several calculations can help put a pet’s age into perspective. For example, a 7-year-old cat is equivalent to a 45-year-old human, while a 20-year-old cat is equivalent to a 98-year-old human. For senior dogs, the human age equivalent is a bit more varied. A 10-year-old small to medium sized dog is equivalent to a 56- to 60-year-old human, while a 10-year-old large to very large sized dog is equivalent to a 66- to 78-year-old human.
Older pets can develop many of the same health issues seen in older people, including cancer, heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, and joint or bone disease. Kidney disease is often marked by increased thirst and urination, decreased appetite, and poor hair coat. Symptoms of heart disease include coughing, difficulty breathing, and decreased appetite. If your senior dog or cat is experiencing increased urination, accidents around the house, or weakness, your pet may be suffering from urinary tract disease.
Your older pet may also exhibit changes in behavior, such as confusion, disorientation, increased wandering, and changes in eating or sleep cycles. These behavioral changes are often obvious before any medical signs appear, and can indicate that something is changing in an older cat or dog. As a pet owner, taking note of behavioral changes as you interact and care for your pet can be an important first step in detecting early signs of disease.
Keeping your senior pet happy and healthy may require some extra attention on your part. Older cats and dogs should have semi-annual veterinary visits to ensure early detection of health issues or illness. Senior pet exams are usually more in-depth than exams for younger pets, and may include blood work, dental care, and specific checks for signs of older pet diseases.
At home, you may find it necessary to change up your pet care routine. If your senior cat refuses to eat his dry food, switching to wet food can help meet his nutrient needs and may be more easily digested. Playing with your senior pet and encouraging daily exercise benefits weight control, helps them maintain mobility, and keeps them mentally active. If your cat or dog is arthritic, consider making them more comfortable with an orthopedic bed, a raised feeding platform, or stair steps to help them reach higher places without jumping. Our veterinarians may recommend medication to help arthritic pets maintain mobility and reduce pain.
Sierra Vet also offers a highly effective option for our patients which utilizes a cold therapy laser to increase bloodflow in your pet's body. The laser is used to treat wounds and speed healing after therapy, but is especially useful for pets suffering from arthritis or joint issues.
By remaining proactive as a pet owner to schedule semi-annual exams and to watch for common signs of disease and behavioral changes, your aging pet will continue to maintain a great quality of life in their senior years.