When you’ve had a companion for many years, it can be hard to see them starting to show signs of aging. As your pet gets older, there are some normal changes you’ll probably notice, but these don’t have to mean a diminished quality of life for your animal. However, in order to do what’s best for an aging pet, you have to know how age-related changes affect them and what you can do to keep them happy and healthy.
Different types of animals can have very different lifespan expectancies, which also means that they reach what would be considered old age at different times. In general, cats and small to medium dogs are considered geriatric when they reach 7 years of age. Larger dogs reach that milestone earlier, at age 6. An animal at this age most likely will still be very active and energetic, but it’s important to note that their needs are slowly changing so that you can adjust their routines appropriately.
One important change to make is the switch to routine checkups to once every 6 months for dogs and cats. This is recommend because older animals are at increased risk of developing certain types of diseased including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and others, and more frequent checkups mean signs of a problem will likely be caught sooner. A routine exam for an older pet will typically include a urinalysis and complete blood panel just to check for any abnormalities. And your vet may also suggest other tests based on your pet’s specific medical history.
Even animals who don’t develop any major health problems as they age often suffer from some level of joint or other pain, often related to arthritis, injury, or hip dysplasia. In these types of cases, effective pain management can go a long way towards extending the animal’s ability to be active and increasing their comfort level. Supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin are an excellent option for older pets, specifically dogs, as they can help reduce pain from an existing condition or injury. These supplements can also be given preventatively to lessen the likelihood or severity of an injury while bringing few to no side effects along with them.
Switching to different types of exercise can also improve an aging animal’s quality of life and help them to maintain a proper fitness level. Dogs in particular are naturally partial to swimming, and this type of low-impact activity is a wonderful alternative for animals suffering from joint pain. It can help them stay fit, improve range of motion, and also reduce their level of discomfort overall. And especially for older dogs, finding a way to stay active is essential because it helps prevent unhealthy weight gain.
For older cats, on the other hand, weight loss is a serious concern. This is something that needs to be monitored closely because, while there are many reasons an older cat may be losing weight, weight loss can be a sign of a more serious developing medical condition. And since there are so many potential causes, it’s important to check with your vet to find out what’s causing your pet’s weight loss.
Another thing to be aware of is that your pet’s nutritional requirements may change as they age. There are many different types of food available for older pets or those with sensitive digestive systems. Your pet’s metabolism will change as they age. Keeping careful track of your pet’s nutritional needs and consulting with your vet about how to adjust their diet as they get older is an important part of ensuring that they can continue to engage in a healthy and active lifestyle. Consulting your veterinarian is key.
Just because your pet has reached an advanced age, that doesn’t mean they can’t still be comfortable, active, and healthy. But it takes awareness and informed choices on your part to make that a reality. The most important things to remember as your pet gets older is to stay in tune to their changing needs, and to make a note of any new behaviors or other developments. And be sure to use your vet as a resource whenever you have concerns or questions about how best to care for an aging pet.
Dr. Paul has a strong interest in avian and exotic animal medicine and surgery, as well as small animal internal medicine and surgery.
He has provided services for numerous breeders, kennels, aviaries, and mini zoos.