Getting old is not a disease, but it does bring our pets as many pitfalls as it does for us. Knowing the signs of aging helps us care for our dogs and cats the way they’ve cared for us all their lives—with unconditional compassion. Giving the best senior pet care can be challenging, yet it’s the loving thing to do.
Senior Pet Care: What Age is Considered “Old?”
How old is “old” for dogs and cats? With good preventive health care:
- Small dogs can average 12-14 years
- Larger dogs can go 9-11 (equal to around 75 for a person)
- Giant breeds have the shortest life-spans, sometimes as short as 6 or 7 years in Mastiffs and Great Danes
- Cats are considered seniors around 11 years of age, and geriatric at about 19 (92 in human years)
Senior Pet Care: 5 Things To Watch For
1. Picky Eater, or Sick?
If they used to love their kibble and are fussier now, it’s worth taking notice. Maybe they have dental disease that is making it harder to chew. Or they experience nausea due to disease-process, such as failing kidneys. Finding out why the happy-dinnertime-dance has become a slow shuffle can be crucial in providing attentive senior pet care.
2. The Body in Motion…or Not
Remember when your dog used to beg until you threw their ball? Every 5 minutes? Or your cat spent hours perched on top of the fridge, surveying her kingdom? You may notice less interest in their favorite activities. Watch them when getting up from a nap; does it take them longer to rise? If you have stairs, look for difficulty going up or down. Decreased activity or intolerance to exercise can indicate possible arthritis or other conditions. Be sure to consult your vet about how to make them more comfortable and/or help them move better.
3. Can You Hear Me Now?
If your dog doesn’t come when you call anymore, they’re not being rude. They simply may not hear as well as before. Try clapping your hands. Some sounds travel at different frequencies, and are easier or harder for aging ears to detect. Teaching visual signals before the hearing loss begins helps them cope. Old dogs can learn, and believe it or not, cats can too! Conversely, prior to possible vision loss, training them to come to you with voice commands will give them a feeling of security as their world changes.
4. Senior Moments
Can dogs and cats get Alzheimer’s disease? They can definitely develop what is known as cognitive dysfunction. It is common for senior pets to start having what appear to be behavior problems, such as separation anxiety, getting lost, experiencing changes in sleep patterns, and obsessive licking or barking. Punishing them for “being bad” just confuses them more, so it helps to know these are normal occurrences with your old pet. Loving senior pet care requires being understanding, even if the behavior is frustrating.
5. When the Outhouse Moves Inside
Your dog was so easy to house-train as a puppy, and has been so good her whole life. Why is she having accidents now? There are many factors that cause a dog or cat to abandon their bathroom etiquette, but you can bet they’re not doing it to punish you for something. Some diseases that can occur with old age include diabetes and kidney disease, both of which cause increased drinking. And what goes in, must come out. Another factor can be weakening of the sphincters that help them control their stool or urine. There are some treatments for incontinence, so after your vet helps you rule out diseases, ask about medications they could recommend.
The Tip of the Tail
Just as we need our families around as we age, our pets need us. And joyful companionship is priceless, so treasure and nurture your furry family members as long as you can.