We love our cats and dogs, so much that we might not want to think and admit that they may be getting old, not only that, but they also age faster than we do. It is unavoidable, as time passes, they will become senior dogs and cats and will need a different style of care, which will help them live longer and in better health.
AGING IS NATURAL
Aging is still something natural and expected, as with humans, it also affects your furry friend. We must understand that our pet companions will grow older and will not be exactly as they were when they were young. These differences not only mean that they will be less active and prefer a relaxed life, but they will also need specific care and attention so as to make their lives easier. They have now become adorable senior cats and dogs!
Cats, especially if they stay home, tend to live longer than dogs and, if they are well cared for (as your pets are), have good genetics, adequate food, and active life, they can exceed 20 years of age, on average a more realistic 14 years. In the case of dogs, the average is between 10 and 13 years.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM YOUR SENIOR DOGS AND CATS?
Their metabolism, biological systems, and organs change over time, so their bodily functions may slow down, and lead to health issues that will require our help and in more severe cases veterinary intervention.
The senses of our cats and dogs will not be the same as time passes. Just as with humans, the five basic senses end up deteriorating, especially sight, hearing, taste, and smell. This can in turn also decreases their appetite and older cats even lose weight, so their shoulder and spinal bones start becoming visible.
As pets get older and become elders, their immune system weakens and animals are more prone to disease. Kidney disease is frequent and is often detected when there is an increase in thirst, as well as hyperthyroidism, and hypersecretion of thyroid hormones.
It is also possible that, on top of these changes in the immune system and senses, your pet suffers subtle changes in its behavior. Pets may become less affectionate or even do things that, for us, have no explanation such as barking or meowing incessantly and without a clear reason. With age, memory and orientation will also be affected.
We all want our pets to age comfortably keeping their life quality as steady as possible, here are some general recommendations.
CARING FOR SENIOR DOGS
Pet geriatrics is now a reality. No more than thirty years ago the life expectancy of a dog did not exceed six years. It is now easy to find dogs that exceed fifteen years of age.
Both the care of owners and the efforts of professionals have helped increase their life expectancy and offer our good friends a longer more fruitful life. However, time does not forgive, as years pass special needs appear in older animals. We must be extra attentive when dogs cross the seven-year barrier. This age is not fixed, larger breeds typically age faster than smaller breeds, so the range is around 5 and 10 years, if you are in doubt, ask your trusted vet when you need to consider your own pet a senior dog.
It is not that a dog that reaches this age suddenly becomes an “old dog” with white hair and difficulty moving. Not at all! A dog of more than seven years of age has other needs, different from those of puppies and adults younger than that age. When the animal ages, the ability of the organism to regulate common functions and to defend itself against external aggressions is progressively altered.
We must follow a series of simple rules, these will help our pets enjoy the best years of their lives both healthy and happy.
Preventive medicine is mainly based on detecting and diagnosing diseases early on during their evolution so it's easier to treat and cure them. Taking this into consideration, owners should always take their dogs to an annual check-up when they are 7 years or older. This yearly exam will include a general review, blood, urine, and stool tests, chest x-ray, electrocardiogram, and dental check-ups, which are the tests or assessments that should not be missed, every year. As the dog gets older, it might be better to take them twice a year for a checkup.
Specific nutrition is one of the basic needs of an older pet. Senior animals have special nutritional requirements and must, therefore, be fed with specifically designed formulations for their age. Less salt, more fiber, and better quality proteins are some of the requirements that must be met in the food for our canine friend. Certain ingredients need to be diminished and others need to increase or improve in quality, changes that guarantee adequate nutrition and an increase in the life expectancy of your pet.
Hygiene is not just brushing and bathing. It is very important to keep regularly brushing and bathing your pet with specific dog products. Walks and appropriate exercise routine depending on the age of our dog, is also part of its hygiene. Do not forget to let your dog enjoy clean air and the sun's rays, it seems that when they get older we take them less out on the street and to the park, this is a serious mistake, the animal will suffer from joint issues and premature obesity.
SIGNS THAT YOUR PET IS A SENIOR DOG
Dogs show more signs of aging than cats do, dogs are more vocal and make it clear when they are in discomfort.
Some things you need to watch out for:
- Changes in eating patterns and weight.
- Your dog is sleeping less.
- Your pet shows signs of not recognizing the surroundings and people.
- Changes in their drink patterns and urinary incontinence.
- Did you find any strange lumps or bumps?
- Dental issues, infected gums, and bad breath.
WHAT SPECIAL CARE DO ELDERLY DOGS REQUIRE?
Our furry friend gets older and you have to help him enjoy its old age as well as possible. We will discover what we need to do so our pets stay healthy.
When our dog exceeds 7 years of age it'll be a senior animal. From this age on, we must take into account that it will have special and new needs that will need to be considered. For larger dog breeds, senior age is attained at around five years, that is also because these breeds have a lower life expectancy.
Our goal with our pets as they grow older is to improve their life quality and prevent certain issues, we should take these aspects into account:
- Resolve health issues that arise when they are detected.
- Prevent pathologies that are typical in senior dogs.
- Treat diseases and cure or reduce the symptoms.
- Maintain your dog's ideal weight.
FOOD & EXERCISE HELPS
- Give them the best food quality. A 10-year-old dog with a good senior dog diet may have a general appearance equal to that of a 7-year-old dog.
- Follow an exercise regime adapted to their age. Your pet will maintain its body mass and muscle tone, it will also stimulate your pet’s circulatory system and promote bowel movements.
CARING FOR SENIOR CATS
Approximately from the age of seven, our furry cat companion will have become a senior cat and we will begin to notice changes in his/her health.
Around that time we should start to take care of the following:
- Take care of sickness and health issues as they appear.
- Prevent diseases and problems that are typical in aging cats.
- Switch to a senior cat diet with your local vet’s guidance.
- Continue with games and exercise taking age into account, if necessary, tone them down a bit depending on your cat’s condition, this helps keep your cat in shape.
SPECIAL FEED FOR CATS
Some of the problems that older cats can suffer are a reduced sense of smell, teeth deterioration, or reduced digestive system activity. Prevention includes dietary changes, the best guidance can be provided by your vet. This will help your cat live longer and healthier.
Senior cat diets include better quality proteins compared to those consumed as an adult, and a higher percentage of fiber that will help intestinal activity, this will also help to control the tendency older cats have to gain weight and assist in preventing the onset of diabetes. You will provide your cat with clean fresh water always at your disposal because senior animals are more likely to suffer from dehydration. You will have to consult with your veterinarian about what energy requirements your cat needs based on its age, as they vary and are based on the health and weight of your pet.
SENIOR CAT DISEASES
On average, once a cat is 7 years old it’ll start showing signs of certain diseases that are typical for older cats, from then on it’s a good idea to visit the vet at least once a year, and when issues start arising, after the age of 10, cats are considered geriatric and two visits a year will help spot issues earlier and provide time to react with the correct treatment.
Among the issues cats start to suffer as they age are:
Senses start to fail: Senior cats stop being able to smell as well as they did when they were younger, this in turn makes them lose interest in their food and start to lose weight. They’ll also stop hearing well and eyesight will also be affected.
Their digestive system will start having issues too. Starting in the mouth, with periodontal problems, tooth loss, and other diseases. Their digestion will also start to falter, their liver function will be reduced and they will tend to suffer from constipation.
When a cat gets old it is more likely to suffer tumors in the case of female cats, mainly in their breast tissue. Furthermore, their skin will no longer be as elastic nor will their hair be as strong and shiny as in their prime years.
This is a typical problem in cats once they become seniors, this one is a complicated malady as the symptoms are subtle and you normally can’t detect it until the disease is quite advanced.
SENIOR CATS SUFFER BEHAVIORAL CHANGES
Cats in their old age, not only change physically, but their behavior also changes, for example:
Our cat may no longer be as clean as it was before. Their muscles and bones are no longer what they were and they may have problems getting into or leaving their toilet box and spilling outside it. They may even poop outside the box.
Physical or neurological issues can induce your cat to attack you when he has always been a very affectionate pet. Your best bet is to visit the veterinarian to determine the reason behind these extreme changes and find out what the reason is for these changes in its conduct.
Constantly meowing. This can in part be due to the fact that older cats get stressed out more easily and your pet will express it this way.
Your senior cat has sleeping issues. All animal species as they get older no longer sleep as deeply and as easily as in their younger years, the same happens with our cats. There may be changes in the sleep and wake cycles.
Senior cats need special attention and have special needs, here are some things you should take into account to help your older cat live longer and healthier in his/her Golden Years.
TOP TIPS FOR SENIOR CAT OWNERS
VETERINARY CONTROL VISITS
Elderly cats need to go to the veterinary clinic for regular check-ups and make sure that everything is going well. The general suggestion is an annual vet visit from 7 years old and on. Once the cat shows stronger age-related changes, a twice-a-year visit to the vet is a good preventive measure.
SENIOR CAT CHECKUPS
Blood tests that evaluate kidney and thyroid function, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, and other conditions that should be checked are obesity, Diabetes mellitus, cancer, arthritis and other joint issues, feline dementia, and other cognitive disorders.
As time passes the immune system of older cats gets weaker so, more now in older cats than ever before, do not forget to vaccinate them.
Older cats need to continue having an active routine. Exercise is fundamental for them if they want to maintain a good life quality. Diseases such as obesity or osteoarthritis are common in elderly cats and an active lifestyle will help them prevent or postpone their onset.
An older cat will benefit from a daily routine, this will help maintain the physical, mental, and even emotional health of your pet as they’ll be more relaxed.
Senior cats need weekly sessions of special fur care: brushing and a massage. when cats grow older they are less flexible and grooming themselves becomes more and more complicated for them. This routine will also help you detect skin changes and will soothe their stiff joints.
TEETH AND GUMS
This part is very important, if we notice anything out of the ordinary in the gums or they are having issues eating, take them to the veterinarian. Elderly cats are more vulnerable to gum disease and tartar buildup.
SENIOR CAT FOOD
Feeding cats depending on each of their stages in life, helps them sustain their good health, as they age and go from senior to geriatric cats, nutrition is essential and what you feed your pet is very important. Older cats have less activity so they will need to lower their caloric intake but, at this age, it is very important they have a high-quality and easily digested protein intake.
Protein and fat must be adapted to the needs of senior cats. Like everything else, we must read the labels closely and know the specific needs of our cats taking into account weight, how active they are, their gender, and more variables. That’s why it’s best to have the guidance of your vet.
Did you know that older cats need to drink more water? Now more than ever, don’t forget that you should always provide them with a bowl with fresh water at their disposal.
When cats get older, it may happen that they fail to use their litter box. First of all, we should talk to our veterinarian to rule out health problems such as infections or incontinence caused by kidney failure. You should also consider a larger-sized but less deep sandbox, that you’ll need to change more frequently.
Older cats produce fewer hormones and are more affected by temperature changes. An optimal environment helps senior cats so the indoor temperature of your home is very important. You need to make sure that your pet is not feeling cold or hot. You can consider a heater or an electric blanket if you notice they are feeling cold.
You should have a corner for them in your home, a place that’s quiet and comfortable, where they will feel protected and can go whenever they need rest.
If you decide to have a party at home or some kind of social gathering, take your cat to a room where it’ll be quiet. Noises and sounds that are too loud can alter and stress them out.
WHEN SHOULD YOU GO TO THE VET?
You should visit your vet when you see your cat acting strange, that could be, sleeping too much, eating too much or doesn’t even eat at all, and no longer using its litter box. Anything out of the normal, skin issues, restlessness, aggressiveness, and so on, will all require professional assistance.
We must provide them with toys that they find familiar, something your pet enjoys, but take care not to get pet toy options that are too hard so they don’t end up breaking a tooth or their nails.
RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHER CATS AND DOGS
This depends a lot on the personality of your senior cat but, certainly, most of the elderly felines tend to be quite unfriendly with other animals, younger animals tend to be more energetic than they are, and your senior cat is first and foremost seeking moments of relaxation and peace. You can put your cat among others, but never force them to stay if they don’t want to.
Senior cats sound like a handful, but we must understand and accept that this is just part of life. We’ll need to be patient, kind, and supportive human companions to our venerable feline pets.
It is important to emphasize that what we talk about in this article is a basic, informative document. We always recommend consulting with our veterinarian team about your pet-specific details. Do not hesitate to contact us at (416) 351-1212 to get an appointment.
- Dog weight: https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/dog-feeding-tips/dog-ideal-weight/
- Tips for senior dogs: https://www.50pluslivingwnc.com/post/2017/09/20/tips-to-keep-your-senior-pet-healthy
- Senior Cat checkups: https://www.hillspet.com/cat-care/healthcare/vet-check-ups-for-senior-cats
- Senior cat issues & care: https://www.hillspet.com/cat-care/routine-care/common-senior-cat-problems
- How old is my dog?: https://www.seniortailwaggers.com/how-old-is-my-dog/