Everyone ages at different rates and speeds. With our pets, they, unfortunately, age at a much faster rate than we do. For example, a 7-year-old cat is approximately 54 human years old, and a 7-year-old dog (depending on size) is approximately 44 to 54 human years old. While we encourage everybody to have annual medical exams so that we can catch illnesses that may not be evident sooner rather than later, this becomes even more important as our animals enter their geriatric stages of life.
Some common issues that we see with our older patients include sight loss, hearing loss and even some stiffening of the joints. We recommend having annual bloodwork done starting around the 7-year mark, this way, we can monitor their internal organs for signs of some common diseases we see in senior pets, such as kidney and liver disease and even cancer. When caught early, these diseases can be relatively easy to treat. According to the AVMA, cancer accounts for almost half of the deaths of pets over the age of 10-years- old. For dogs, the chance of getting cancer is pretty similar to humans, however, cats get cancer at a slightly lower rate.
With our pet’s getting older and slower, their joints start to become a little more stiff and sore. They may not want to play as much or go on as many walks. Nutrition and keeping them at a good weight becomes even more important when they are not getting as much exercise as they used to do. As they slow down and possibly gain weight, the additional weight puts more strain on their joints. This additional strain makes it increasingly more uncomfortable for them to get around and they may become even more unlikely to want to play or go for their regular walks. By adjusting the amount of food that you feed, and possibly the type of food that you feed, and adding in some supplements (talk to your vet!) you can improve their comfortability and quality of life!
A pet’s behaviour may also change as they get older. Sometimes it is the change in behaviour and activity that is the first reminder that your pet is becoming an older pet and may need an adjustment in their routine to stay comfortable. These changes may be due to neurological changes, stiffness in joints, loss of eyesight/hearing, etc. Just to name a few of the things that your veterinarian examines for as your pet grows older. While some behaviour changes are due to these things, they could also be due to cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS for short), which is compared to Alzheimer’s in humans. Some of the common signs of this include:
- Changes in their sleep-wake cycle
- Increase in accidents
- Less interest in playing
There are many things that you can do to increase your pet’s quality of life as they enter their geriatric stage of life. Things like adding additional supplements into their diet, or even changing their diet to a more senior-friendly diet (ask your veterinarian), or even if needed there are some diets that focus on improving cognitive function.
Written by Emily Beach, RVT