The Senior Years

The pets we love become “seniors” sooner than you might think.  Cats and small breed dogs reach geriatric status around their 7th birthday.  For larger breeds, the rule of thumb is 6 years.

Advances in Veterinary Medicine and pet nutrition have resulted in an increased population of geriatric pets.  With these growing numbers, a great deal of focus has been placed on establishing protocols and treatment plans for cats and dogs who are living longer.  Research has been conducted on adapting their environment to suit their mobility challenges, nutritional guidelines, exercise regimens, vaccine protocols, and so much more.

While aging itself is not a disease, it does place our pets at higher risk for many of the same health problems we humans face as we grow older…

  • joint stiffness/arthritis
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • urinary/kidney disease
  • cancer
  • cognitive impairment
  • reduced vision and hearing
  • generalized “slowing down”

Often, before actual symptoms are evident, older pets exhibit personality changes that can act as a warning sign.  Some of the most common behaviors are…

  • irritability
  • anxiety, timidness, fear
  • restlessness
  • decreased appetite
  • withdrawal from family and favorite activities
  • confusion
  • wandering
  • soiling in the house
  • not responding to commands
  • fearful reaction to loud noises
  • unpredictable aggression

Further complicating the health of an aging pet is the struggle to adapt nutrition to their changing needs.  Since most older pets slow down in general, become far less active, and sleep more, they require fewer calories.   Maintaining their regular diet often leads to obesity, placing greater strain on their joints as well as their respiratory and cardiovascular systems.  By contrast, some seniors become disinterested eaters, who struggle to ingest their optimal caloric intake requirement.  Others develop gastrointestinal sensitivities that necessitate dietary adjustments. 

It all sounds daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.  Your Veterinarian can guide you through all the necessary decisions on care, and lifestyle changes.

Since greater oversight is warranted for seniors, it’s important to replace the annual exam, recommended for younger pets, with semi-annual exams.  This simple adjustment greatly increases the odds of early detection and treatment of potential problems.

Patience and an understanding of the senior years will help you adjust your expectations and anticipate their needs.  Acknowledging their limitations will allow you to transition into this final phase of life continuing to enjoy the special bond of care and trust that has made the relationship between you so rewarding. 

If you have any concerns about changes that you’re observing in your pet, just call (732) 671-3110 and we’ll get you in.  Remember that many signs of aging can also be a sign of more serious underlying disease.