As Veterinary Professionals, we are taught that "age is not a disease". What we mean is that pets can live longer lives if problems and illnesses are managed rather than chalking up their stiff gait, cloudy eyes, poor appetite and bad teeth to "old age" and letting them go unaddressed.
Pets who receive regular checkups to identify problems before they become serious and life-threatening are living longer than ever before.
In summary, older pets need more frequent attention to their health, but many problems associated with old age can be managed.
What is a senior pet? It varies based on species and breed type. Cats are loosely considered seniors by the AAFP Feline Senior Care Guidelines at 10 years.
Small breeds of dog, medium breeds and large breeds are roughly grouped by life expectancy as well, with varying ranges for their senior years:
Small or toy breeds (less than 20 pounds): 8 to 11 years
Medium-sized breeds (20 to 50 pounds): 8 to 10 years
Large breeds (50 to 90 pounds): 8 to 9 years
Giant breeds (more than 90 pounds): 6 to 7 years
Of course, just like with people, health choices throughout life (nutrition, activity, early intervention with ailments) matters a great deal in determining longevity.
The American Animal Hospital Association has released new guidelines for senior care to lengthen and enrich their lives:
Health Needs of Senior Pets
Examination by a Veterinarian every 6 months for early identification of illness
Weight Control to maintain mobility and reduce joint stress
Transition to a Senior diet to address specific needs of aging pets
Blood and Urine screenings every 12 months to detect changes linked to disease
Home Tips for Clients Caring for Senior Pets
Provide regular gentle grooming and nail care
Consider having a mobile groomer for home grooming to minimize stress
Keep pets clean and dry at all times, including fur, skin, and bedding
Provide good bedding that is adequately padded
Cover slippery floors with secure rugs and mats for traction
Pets with decreased mobility need additional nursing care, including being walked or turned every few hours
Monitor skin for redness, rashes, swelling
Keep flies, fleas, and ticks off the senior pet
For pets with incontinence issues:
Minimize use of diapers to avoid secondary infections
Use disposable or washable waterproof covers for bedding (fleece or mesh)
Keep patient groomed and/or fur trimmed, particularly on the back legs, tail, and around the vulva, penis, and anus
Use baby wipes or medicated wipes to keep patient clean in between bathing
At your pet's senior examinations, your Veterinarian will be looking for signs of common illness and problems in aging pets. Behavior, environmental and mental needs, physical condition and lifestyle can all change quite a bit as our pets age. Your Vet will recommend ways to help you and your pet adapt and take on the golden years with gusto!