We all want our pets to live a long and happy life. As with us, the older they get the more vulnerable they become to age-related diseases. Cats are considered middle-aged at 7 years old and geriatric by the time they have reached 13, however it is not uncommon for cats to live to 18 years old or more. Dogs have a more variable lifespan due to the variation in size. Generally larger dogs age faster than little dogs, a five-year-old Great Dane could be considered an older gentleman, whilst a five-year-old Springer Spaniel is still in his prime.
Watching our pets age can be difficult, the good news is there are lots of steps we can take to keep them an active member of the family for as long as possible. Maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle becomes increasingly important in a pet's later years.
It can be tempting to give our darling pets too many treats, after all, who can resist those big loving eyes. Whilst there is nothing wrong with the occasional indulgence, we should not allow our pets to become overweight. Studies have shown that feeding too much shortens the lifespan of dogs. In addition, carrying too much fat puts extra strain on ageing joints and organs.
Keeping active is beneficial to maintaining muscles and stimulating the mind. Walks may need to be shorter and activities less strenuous than in younger years, but continuing to move is important. A sedentary lifestyle can cause older joints to tighten and freeze up. Keeping an older cat moving can be a challenge, but try a gentle game of chasing a feather on a stick to get them motivated.
A Helping Hand
A few simple adaptions to your pet care routine can make the elder years more comfortable. Arthritis is very common in dogs and is being increasingly recognised in cats. Painful joints can make jumping up on furniture or into the car impossible, ramps can be used to help your pet remain involved in family trips away or cuddles on the sofa.
Older animals can become unsure of slippery floors and slips and falls can make arthritic joints more painful. Non-slip flooring, toe grips or rubber coated booties can help. A well-padded bed in a warm area of the house can help tired joints. Having a comfortable bed close to the kitchen or living room will help your older pet enjoy spending time with the family whilst resting.
Reduced flexibility can make self-grooming more difficult, you can help by regularly brushing your pet's coat. This is also a good chance to feel for lumps and bumps under the skin.
As cats and dogs get older their immune system becomes less robust, ensuring their parasite prevention is up to date will protect them against worms, fleas, and ticks.
Consider using a diet formulated for the older pet. Geriatric diets are formulated with easy to digest ingredients and the corrected calorie intake requirements, many are also supplemented with nutrients for increased joint and brain care.
Advancements in veterinary care and an increased understanding of dietary requirements mean our pets are now living longer than ever. Older pets develop many of the same health problems as older people. With increasing age, the rates of cancers, organ failure, diabetes, arthritis, cognitive degeneration all increase. Being observant and knowing the signs of common diseases may help you to spot any problems early and start treatment sooner.
Weight loss is a major symptom of many diseases. Weight loss can occur gradually and may be difficult to spot, particularly in a long-haired pet. Regular weight checks will help you to spot many disease processes early.
At your regular vet check you will always be asked about your pet's eating and drinking habits. Changes in appetite and thirst will make vets suspicious about a variety of disease processes. Knowing what is normal and monitoring for change means you can seek veterinary advice early when a problem occurs. Are you filling the water bowl more often? Is there more food going to waste at the end of the day? If several family members are involved with feeding, regular routines and good communication will ensure changes are not missed.
Increased urination can be caused by a variety of conditions. If you spot a change in urinating habits inform your vet. Diarrhoea and vomiting are obvious outward signs of a problem, in particular if they last for more than a few days.
Exercise tolerance will often reduce as your pet gets older, but a sudden change is a reason to book a visit to the vet. Painful joints, anaemia, heart or lung problems can all cause a reduced ability to exercise.
The good news is that there are lots of ways we can maintain a high quality of life for our pets as they age. Being mindful of their changing needs will help keep them a happy, healthy member of our family for as long as possible.
Written by Lindsay Rose MA VetMB CertAVP CertVBM MRCVS.