By Jen Lutz-Paolella
As the famous comedian George Burns once said: “You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old.”
When it comes to our beloved four-legged friends, the same concept applies. According to the US Pet Ownership and Demographic Guide published by the American Veterinary Medical Association, 47.9% of dogs and 50% of cats in America are aged 6 years and older.
Here we will explore what the definition of a senior -aged pet is (you may be surprised!), what to expect as your pet gets older, and the best ways to provide optimal care.
How do I know if my pet is a “senior”?
According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), “The number of years considered to be “senior” may vary, and one must keep in mind that organ systems, species, and breeds of dogs age at different rates.”
The average age for a dog to be considered a senior is 7 years old. The size of the dog is important, because large-breed dogs tend to age more quickly than small or medium-sized dogs. Some small-breed dogs are considered to be seniors at 10 years of age, but some large-breed dogs as early as 5 years.
Cats are considered to be seniors between the ages of 8 to 11 years. A conversation with your veterinarian about this subject will provide you with the best information for your pet, and will allow for the ideal health care plan.
What can I expect as my pet ages?
You may have a dog or cat that has already reached the senior stage, but seems just as healthy as the day you brought them home. Or perhaps you’ve adopted an adult pet and the senior years are fast approaching. Often times the signs of aging are evident and can include the following:
· Sudden changes in activity levels
· Increase in water consumption and increased urination
· Sudden weight gain or loss
· Increase or decrease in appetite
· More frequent accidents inside the home
· Lameness lasting more than 5 days, or lameness in more than one leg
· Increased amount of time spent sleeping
What are the next steps for my senior pet?
If you’ve identified that your pet is considered a senior, there are several things you can proactively do to improve the quality and duration of their life:
· Senior Wellness Exams: The AAHA recommends that healthy senior dogs and cats visit the veterinarian every six months for a complete exam and laboratory testing.
· Nutrition: Working with your veterinarian to develop a balanced diet for your senior pet will greatly contribute to their well-being. There are many diets on the market that are formulated for senior pets, and include specific nutrients which can lower the chances of obesity or disease.
· Exercise: The positive effects of exercise have been studied and proven repeatedly. The same rules apply with our pets! Unless there is a health concern restricting exercise, please consider keeping your senior pets as active as they would like to be.
· Accommodating the Aging: One of the most important things to remember is that our aging pets ultimately cause changes in our households. Preparing for these changes will make the senior years more enjoyable, and potentially longer lasting. Some examples are:
An extra set of hands: If you head to an office every day and your dog or cat stays home, consider hiring a dog walker or cat sitter to visit your home for extra exercise and companionship.
Support: There are numerous online resources available for the senior pet parent where you can get tips and advice for taking care of your senior pet and giving them the best quality of life possible. The Pet Knowledge Center on SeniorPetProducts.com is a great place to start.
Medication: Should your dog or cat be prescribed a medication for any kind of disease or condition, it is vital to maintain the recommended dosage from your veterinarian.
By identifying your pet’s age status, keeping an eye on their daily routines, and seeing your veterinarian on a regular basis, the senior years for you and your pet can be a very positive and enjoyable experience!
Jennifer Lutz-Paolella is a freelance medical writer with extensive experience in the veterinary industry including: consulting, education, marketing, and sales. She is an advocate for animal health and welfare, and lives in Chicago with her husband Tony and their cat Ti.