As hard as it is to face, our pets age faster than we do. Being informed and proactive about health care ensure the best quality of life for your pet for as long as possible.
What makes a pet a “senior”? The idea that multiplying by seven translates a dog’s age into “human years” is very misleading because pets age at different rates depending upon size, breed and other factors.
Generally, smaller breeds of dogs live longer than larger breeds, and cats live longer than dogs. So, a giant breed may enter his senior years at age 8, while the toy breed next door might not reach her golden years until age 12.
Of course, life span also varies with the individual, depending upon many factors including overall health and lifestyle. As they age, pets undergo changes remarkably similar to those of aging humans: hair turns gray, hearing wanes and joints stiffen.
Loss of sight and hearing
Progressive loss of hearing and sight are common in older pets, so it’s important to pay attention to changes. Excessive drainage, mucus, or bulging of his eyes may indicate a serious problem like glaucoma or dry eye. Any change from his normal appearance should be evaluated right away in order to preserve his sight as long as possible and prevent further damage.
Be sure to make allowances for his limitations. If your best friend is losing his eyesight, avoid moving furniture or your pet’s food and water bowls and bedding. When you take your dog into unfamiliar territory, keep him on a lead and walk him slowly through the new place. Stay close by and reassure him.
If your pet’s vision is normal, you may be able to compensate for deafness by using hand signals. Dogs, in particular, normally communicate with each other through body movements, so they will readily understand hand signals. Never let a pet that is visually or hearing impaired roam freely outside.
Coping with arthritis
Osteoarthritis affects dogs just it as does people. If you notice your dog limping, having trouble climbing stairs or not being able to find a comfortable place to rest, a visit to your veterinarian is also in order.
There are well-tested medications available that can lessen the pain and stiffness of arthritis so your pet can move with greater ease and enjoy a better quality of life.
You can help ward off some of the effects of arthritis by keeping him slim, since excess weight put unnecessary stress on joints. It’s important to keep him as active as possible, too. Lack of exercise can increase joint stiffness and may lead to muscle atrophy from lack of use. Be sure to get him out for a walk every day. If your dog is otherwise healthy, consider doggy day camp a few times a week. The excitement of being around other dogs may encourage your senior to get moving.
Regular exams are key
Many diseases that are known to afflict aging humans also affect our aging pets: kidney, heart, and liver disease; tumors and cancers; diabetes; and even dementia. Regular physical examinations and laboratory blood and urine tests by your pet’s veterinarian are critical for early detection of problems.
Weight loss, a significant decrease in appetite, excessive panting, constant whining or pacing, loss of housebreaking, hair loss and changes in behavior can be early indicators of a medical problem. If you see new any of these problems, have your pet checked by his veterinarian.
Even if your pet has no unusual problems, regular screenings can help you maintain your pet's body weight and condition and ensure a better quality of life during those senior years. Most experts recommend twice yearly visits for dogs in their senior years. It may seem like a lot, but if you think of it in terms of how fast your pet is aging, it would be like a person going for an annual physical every 3 to 4 years.
Your veterinarian understands that your pet is part of the family and can help make all the years that you share with your pet rich and fulfilling.