Care for Your Aging Pet

While pets suffer from many of the same age-related problems as humans, domestic animals do have issues that are unique.

Your pet dog or cat ages more rapidly than a human — the average being seven times faster. By age two, dogs and cats are considered adults. Many pets are considered middle age by the time they hit four. Large dogs are considered seniors at seven years old. Cats and dogs, in general, are seniors when they reach eight to 10 years of age.

To put this in perspective, seven years of your life equals about 45 for a medium-sized dog and approximately 55 years for a cat. With this rapid aging, health problems or changes can come almost as rapidly for your pet. The risks of various diseases also increase as your cat or dog ages.

Pets are at risk for many of the same afflictions as humans: heart disease, kidney disease, periodontal disease, arthritis, diabetes and even cancer. Cats can also be affected by thyroid disease.

Cats, being quiet pets, are often able to hide illness better than dogs — up to the point that the disease becomes a crisis before the owner is aware that there is a problem. This can pose a real danger, as many pet guardians bring their cat to the veterinarian far less often than many dog owners bring in their pet.

A major factor in keeping your pet happy and healthy in its senior years, is taking your cat or dog to a veterinarian on a regular basis. You can work with your vet to set up a wellness exam program. You should make it a point to take your pet in at least once a year, though some experts believe it’s important to have your animal examined every six months.

All adult cats and dogs have regular screenings that need to be done by your veterinarian. When your pet reaches senior status, additional exams will likely include: an osteoarthritis check, a thyroid check, a chest radiograph and, for cats, a blood pressure screening.

As a guardian, it’s also important for you to take a role in your pet’s health — beyond making sure that it sees a veterinarian on a regular basis. Watch for abnormal behaviors: vomiting, sneezing or coughing. Also be on the lookout for appetite, activity level and weight changes. Anything that seems out of the ordinary for your pet is worth noting and bringing to your veterinarian’s attention, particularly as your cat or dog ages.

One of the most important areas of your senior pet’s health is dental care. The vast majority of older dogs and cats have gum disease, which can lead to serious health issues. Be sure to have your veterinarian examine your pet’s teeth and do regular cleanings, especially as your animal progresses through its later years.

As your pet ages, weight can also become a problem, though cats and dogs differ a bit in the challenges they face. Similar to humans, a dog’s metabolism slows with age and its activity level decreases. If your dog is still eating the same type and amount of food as when it was younger, it’s likely to gain too much weight. You need to put your dog on a diet that balances with your pet’s activity level, but first discuss a plan with your veterinarian.

Cats generally maintain the same food needs throughout their lives, but you still need to watch your pet’s weight. Discuss any weight loss with your veterinarian. Watch for weight gain. Cats can and do gain weight in their senior years, but it’s not healthy and can lead to diabetes. Be sure to change to a senior pet cat food diet when your vet recommends doing so.

It’s also important to exercise your senior pet. You can still play with and buy toys for your cat, but remember to be gentle. Your pet is probably not able to run around quite as fast or quite as nimbly as when it was younger. You can still take your dog for a walk or swim, although you will likely need to slow down or exercise for shorter periods of time.

With a little care and vigilance on your part, your pet will enjoy a long life, and its senior years will be happy and healthy.

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