Thanks to better care, pets are living longer now than they ever have before – but as pets get older, they need extra care and attention. Regular veterinary examinations can detect problems in older pets before they become advanced or life-threatening, and improve the chances of a longer and healthier life for your pet.
When does a pet become “old”?
It varies, but cats and small dogs are generally considered “senior” at 7-10 years of age. Giant breed dogs tend to have shorter life spans compared to smaller breeds and are often considered senior when they are over 5 years of age.
Animal Age: Human Equivalents for Older Pets
(small to very large dogs)*
*Small: 0-20 lbs
Medium: 21-50 lbs
Large: 51-90 lbs
Very Large: >90 lbs
What problems are more common in senior pets?
It is normal for pets to lose some of their sight and hearing as they age. Pets with poor sight or even blindness can get around well in familiar environments. If your pet’s eyesight is failing, avoid rearranging or adding furniture or other items that could become obstacles. Older pets with hearing loss may not respond as well to voice commands or startle easily when woken. Use high-pitched whistles or vibrations (e.g. stomping feet) to alert your dog to your presence.
An older pet is more likely to develop diseases such as heart, kidney and liver failure, dental disease, cancer or arthritis. These diseases may lead to changes in their activity, behavior, or weight. Regular baseline blood testing and examinations help catch these diseases in their earlier stages, leading to a better outcome with treatment.
Changes in activity and behavior
If your pet is starting to have difficulty with running and playing, going up or down stairs, or trouble standing up in the morning, they may have arthritis. Organ disease may cause a change in your pet’s food intake, drinking amounts, elimination frequency, or weight. Dental disease often causes bad breath and can lead to difficulty chewing and eating. There may also be other reasons for these changes, so have your pet examined by your veterinarian to determine the cause of the problems.
Some changes in behavior may be part of the normal aging process, but some behavior changes in older pets may be due to cognitive dysfunction, which is similar to senility in people. Possible signs of cognitive dysfunction include:
– Increased vocalization
– Confusion or disorientation
– House soiling (“accidents”)
– Anxiety or aggressive behavior
– Repetitious behavior
– Changes in sleep pattern
How does weight affect senior pets?
Obesity increases the risk of arthritis, difficulty breathing, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, skin problems, cancer, and other conditions. Unintentional or sudden weight loss is also a concern. Hyperthyroidism, diabetes, kidney disease, and cancer are possible causes of weight loss. If you notice any sudden changes in your older pet’s weight, contact your veterinarian.