November is more than fall festivals and feasts; it’s also National Senior Pet Month!
To honor this month, we’ve crafted a concise Q&A with our resident pet vet, Dr. Adam Davis from PriVET. From determining when a pet is senior to what to watch for, Dr. Adam’s here with all the doggone details.
At what age does a pet become “senior”?
Where most veterinarians draw the line between an adult dog or cat and a senior dog or cat is different from where pet owners do. When a pet becomes a senior depends on their individual health and condition and how we approach protecting the quality of life we hope they have been afforded. We must remember that aging is a natural process, not a disease. Just like people, dogs and cats go through both mental and physical changes as they age.
In my approach to making recommendations, the main purpose of identifying a senior pet is to ensure we are appropriately screening for possible diseases and changes to their metabolic and organ function. A general rule of thumb is around 7 years old. So, if we haven’t already begun screening the pet by this time using annual lab work and more frequent exams, I would recommend initiating such when a dog or cat turns 7.
What health problems and changes are common in senior pets?
Changes to organ function including the kidneys, liver, heart and gastrointestinal tract may occur. We may also see disruption to thyroid and adrenal gland production and diabetes. Many older dogs experience decreases in their senses and their ability to see, hear, taste, and smell may be affected. Degenerative joint disease becomes more prominent and various types of cancer can materialize. Dental disease also becomes much more common as your pet gets older.
How does weight affect senior pets?
Overweight and obese cats are more prone to diabetes. Older dogs tend to lose muscle and gain fat. As they age, their energy requirements decrease and they may not need the same number of daily calories they did as when they were young. The arthritis we often see in aging cats and dogs can become worse and more difficult to manage when the pet is overweight.
What should I feed my senior pet?
There is no one size fits all answer here. The diet a dog is fed should be tailored to their individual condition and health. Not every dog will even need to switch from an adult diet to a senior diet as they get older. It’s a good idea to discuss a pet’s diet, body conditioning / weight and energy levels with your veterinarian to avoid over-feeding and obesity. Be sure to have a conversation at the time of their exam about what may be considered an optimal diet.
Should I be concerned if my senior pet is less active?
Biologically, increased sleeping and decreased activity are observed in older pets. Many older dogs and cats will not have the same endurance for play and exercise as they did in their youth. A decrease in activity alone may very well be a normal aging sign. However when correlated with other negative changes, such as those listed below, you may want to evaluate further:
- increased panting or difficulty breathing
- change in appetite or thirst
- change in frequency of urination
- “accidents” in the house
Does my senior pet still need routine preventative care?
Yes. Such care becomes even more important for older cats and dogs. As mentioned earlier, a 7-year-old cat or dog should ideally have annual lab work (blood and urine) evaluated along with twice a year physical examinations. These help identify any changes to their bodies so problems can be addressed as early as possible.
What supplements should I be giving my senior pet?
Most nutritional needs can continue to be supported through diet alone. However, supplemented omega fatty acids and cartilage protectants for their joints can certainly be beneficial. Be sure to ask your veterinarian about these.
For more general pet wellness tips, check out our Q&A for Pet Wellness Month.