Sharing your life with an animal companion can be tremendously
rewarding. Most pet owners will happily describe the many qualities that
makes their pet a unique individual. But one thing all pets have in
common is that they grow old long before their human family members.
As your pet's guardian, it's important to remember that aging is a
natural and unavoidable process. With a little help and understanding,
that graying muzzle will be resting contentedly in your lap for a long
time to come.
What to Expect
In general, aging
in animals isn't a whole lot different from aging in humans. Vision,
hearing, mental agility and physical stamina gradually begin to decline.
Appetites and sleeping habits may change. Activities that were once
routine may become difficult or exhausting.
These changes don't
mean that quality of life is deteriorating. Old age is simply a
different stage of life, one which may call for some adjustments and
adaptation, but which can be just as enjoyable as the the preceding
How Old is Old?
It's difficult to give
an exact age at which a pet should be considered elderly. There's a lot
of variance between species, breeds and individuals. As a general rule,
the last third of an animal's lifespan can be considered his or her
Most cats, with a lifespan of 12 to 15 years, are
considered elderly around age 8. Large dogs tend to age quicker than
small, lightweight dogs; symptoms may begin around age 6. Tiny dogs such
as chihuahuas may not start slowing down until 8 or 10.
Caring for Your Elderly Friend
There are a number of things any pet owner can do to ensure an elderly pet is as comfortable and secure as possible:Exercise - exercise is important, but an elderly dog will
benefit more from multiple short walks than one or two long walks each
day. Multiple walks will also provide additional bathroom opportunities
-- helpful as bladder control becomes more difficult with age.Mobility - both cats and dogs will benefit from ramps as it
becomes increasingly difficult to jump or navigate stairs. If your pet
is losing vision, avoid rearranging furniture. Likewise don't relocate
food, water, or litter boxes.Pain Management - arthritis is very common in both dogs and cats. Fortunately there are many options available to help with pain management and restore mobility. Stiffness, difficulty standing or walking, or reluctance to jump or use stairs are symptoms of arthritis.Diet - speak with your veterinarian about the ideal diet for your pet's changing nutritional needs. Soft, moist foods may be more appealing to reluctant eaters.Grooming - for an aging companion regular grooming will
stimulate blood circulation, which improves overall health and aids with
temperature regulation.Comfort - laying on hard floors is uncomfortable for older
joints and bones. Provide a soft, warm bed -- you may even want to
consider orthopedic foam for arthritic animals. Heated beds may help
ease arthritis symptoms.Dental Care - good dental care
is important at any stage of life. Painful teeth and infected gums can
cause a myriad of health complications which an aging body is
ill-equipped to handle.Stress - if possible, avoid introducing new pets into homes
with elderly animals. A new addition can be very stressful. If leaving
town, try to find a pet sitter who will come to your home rather than
boarding your furry friend in an unfamiliar location. Likewise, a vet
willing to make house calls will prevent the stress of an office visit.Aging or Illness?
Often the symptoms of aging are
very similar to manifestations of illness; never assume any physical or
behavioral changes are normal and don't need attention. If your mature
pet is acting out of character, schedule an appointment with your
General check ups are also important. At Advanced
Pet Care of Northern Nevada we recommend elderly pets be examined twice
a year. Our Senior Wellness Exam is designed to evaluate the overall health of mature pets as well as screen for illness or disease:Complete physical examinationSenior panel comprehensive bloodworkUrine and fecal analysisArterial blood pressure testThyroid testComprehensive eye examCancer screeningHeartworm testingThis thorough examination will also provide early detection of
age-related symptoms, such as failing vision or arthritis. Though aging
is unavoidable, the severity of symptoms can often be reduced with
simple medications or procedures.
Sharing your home with an elderly companion can be every bit as
rewarding as it was in more youthful days. With care and attention an
elderly pet can spend his or her golden years with dignity, surrounded
by loved ones in the comfort of home.