Senior Pets – Still young at heart
Pets age more quickly than people. So, while your dog or cat may just be a few years old in calendar years, in animal years, it is quite a different story. In a recent survey, reported that nearly 40% of pets are seniors and that number, much like the growth in the senior population among people, continues to climb.
How fast do pets age?
Pets go through four stages of life: pediatric, adult, senior, geriatric. And if you’ve had a puppy, you would argue that there is a teenager stage, when they aren’t quite puppies anymore, but they haven’t quite settled into an adult stage. You know that bumbling energy stage, when they are complete, lovable, goof balls!
Some pets are lovable goofballs throughout their lives and some are old souls from a young age. And we love them all!
When are pets considered to be seniors?
The best answer to that question: it depends!
Cats tend to age slightly more slowly than dogs with cats being considered seniors at age 8 and geriatric at age 12.
Dogs, on the other hand, are much more variable in their rate of aging, depending on the breed and size of the dog.
The chart on the right gives you a great idea of how old your pet is right now. But do keep in mind that this is a general guideline. Each pet is an individual. There are a great many factors that impact how our pets age, just as there are with people.
Why does it matter if my pet is a senior?
Just like people, pets progress in their health. And, just like people, they tend to develop illness and disease as they grow older. It is not uncommon for pets to develop diabetes, joint issues, digestive issues, coronary problems, kidney problems, just to name a few. Thankfully, the field of veterinary medicine has advanced as well to address these issues. Regular veterinary care and a good relationship with your vet will help you identify and address disease progression and organ health. With your careful observation and regular visits, your pet’s age and body condition will suggest to your vet what wellness testing needs to be done to identify and address any issues as well as to help monitor drugs prescribed to help chronic issues.
Some procedures are not recommended for senior pets as the risk factors increase with a pet’s age. The first that comes to mind are any procedures that require anesthesia. At a certain age and with certain factors, it is either not recommended or not safe to anesthetize your pet.
How long will my pet live?
Well cared for pets can expect to live through the projections of their respective breeds. Of course, there are many variables that can impact this. Genetics, environment, lifestyle….sounds a lot like people!
Genetics is the biggest factor in affecting a pet’s longevity. Large and giant breeds such as Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, Mastiffs, in general have a much shorter life span than do the small breeds. There’s a lot of dog in those breeds to keep strong and going! Many of the large and giant breeds have joint issues with arthritis or hip dysplasia.
Most breeds of dog have issues that are prevalent issues. Researching breeds before you bring your dog into the house, you are likely aware of those issues. If not, your vet can point you in the right direction. If you have a dog from a breed that is prone to hip displasia, and there you’ve gotten your pet as a puppy, your vet can perform tests that can assess if this will likely be an issue for your dog as he ages and potentially correct the issue while young.
If you have a ‘Heinz 57’ or mixed-breed dog that you’ve adopted or rescued, there are far fewer known factors as you begin your relationship. Again, here is where your vet can tell you a great deal, both about the breeds that are in your pet’s genetic makeup but also what you might anticipate regarding health matters.
Similarly, cats are also prone to specific issues. Long-haired breeds are often prone to digestive issues due to hair balls and grooming over their lives. Frequent brushing, special foods can help these issues. Your vet can point you in the right direction.
Male cats frequently develop issues with crystals forming in their urinary tract that make using the litter box painful. Imagine feeling razor blades every time you go to the bathroom. Ouch!
Helping my pet live a long life.
We added Benji to our family as a young adult dog, approximately 2 years old, the same age as our son. Benji was thankfully with us until my son graduated from college. Christopher was 22. Benji weighed about 35 pounds. From the chart, dear Benji was well over 100 in dog years! Our cat, O’Malley – you guessed it! – orange tabby, was with us for 20 years or an amazing 96 year old guy.
There are a number of things that can impact how long your pet lives. It’s part genetics,which you have no control over. Develop a good relationship with your veterinarian. Maintain the vaccinations recommended by your pet for your dog and keep them heartworm and flea-free. Get regular dental treatments for your pet. As he ages, you’ll want to get baseline blood work done as recommended to be able to recognize any signs of illness or changes at the early stage. For cats, make sure they stay indoors and are feline leukemia free. There is a vaccine for this as well.
Reproductive issues affect both cats and dogs. Regardless of whether your pet is female or male, ensuring your pet is neutered at an early age can have a positive impact on your pet’s health as well as their overall behavior.
Keep your pet away from household chemicals and poisons that could make it ill or worse.
Ensuring your pet eats a good diet as recommended by your veterinarian to maintain good coat and body condition is probably the biggest impact you can have. Table scraps, while well intended, will not help your pet stay healthy. Pets get obese resulting in heart issues and diabetes. Sounds like people and what your doctor tells you? You’re right. Pets are impacted by so many of the same things we are. A good diet and a good exercise program will help keep your furry family members with you and well for as long as possible.