Photo credit: James Robinson
Written by Dr Candice Cooper – Gardens Pet Clinic & Spa
Better care and nutrition have led to our pets living longer. However, older pets require more regular veterinary examinations to detect problems before they become advanced and life-threatening. Regular vet visits will help your pet live a longer and healthier life.
How pets age
Pets age much faster than humans, and most pet parents don’t realise that their pet is actually a senior.
Whilst size, breed, and species influence the rate of ageing to a large extent, in general, a pet would be considered senior at around seven years of age, corresponding to a 50-year-old human. A 15-year-old dog would correspond to an 80-year-old human!
Age itself is not a disease, but older pets are more likely to develop diseases such as heart, kidney, and liver disease, cancer, or arthritis.
Fortunately, although older pets may develop some of these age-related problems, continuous improvements in veterinary science and the diagnostic tests available to us veterinarians allow us to detect diseases far earlier than we were able to in the past. Earlier detection means we can intervene earlier, keeping your pet happy and healthy for longer.
Age-related changes are quite subtle to begin with; for example, sleeping more or being less excited about play than usual could be early signs of ageing.
Changes you can look out for include:
- Confusion regarding normal things like where their bed is or barking for no reason indicate age-related changes in your pet’s capacity to think.
- As mentioned, sleeping more and playing, running, or jumping less should alert you to a reduction in your pet’s activity levels.
- Reduced amount of socialisation shows a decline in your pet’s interest in interacting.
- Accidents in the house can indicate a loss of control of their bladder or bowels.
- Being awake more at night should alert you to a change in your pet’s sleeping patterns. Alterations in the sleep-wake cycle are a common age-related change.
Now, it’s important to note that one of these changes, occurring infrequently, is likely nothing to be concerned about. It’s more important to be aware of what to look out for and, if you are noticing a few of these changes, or if they’re occurring with increased frequency, to book an appointment with your vet to discuss your concerns.
We owe it to our golden oldies to be a little bit more careful and watchful over them.
Here are a few points I pay particular attention to during my Senior Consultations:
- Bad breath and red/swollen gums; I also ask pet parents about their pet’s ability to chew and any changes in eating habits. These help me to identify problems with the teeth/mouth which we see more often in seniors.
- Any signs of discomfort, lameness, or pain. One thing I watch very carefully is how easy it is for the pet to get up after they’ve been lying down. This gives me really good information about the possibility of arthritis.
- We weigh each pet at each visit to detect any weight loss. I’ll also look for signs of weakness and question pet parents about changes in drinking and eating habits. Specifically, if they’re drinking more or eating less, urinating more frequently, and if there’s any vomiting or diarrhoea. These facts can all help me decipher if there could be an impairment in kidney function.
- Asking pet parents if their pet is panting more often or if they tire easily, alongside a shortness of breath or coughing, can indicate problems with the heart or lungs.
- A dull coat or skin odour may indicate skin problems. I’ll also check for any lumps and bumps and find out from the pet parent if there’s been any excessive scratching, licking, or chewing, as well as if they’re grooming themselves well.
Good nutrition for good golden years
Ageing is a multifactorial process that slows pets down both mentally and physically. While we can’t stop the ageing process, we can slow it down significantly with good nutrition.
Ageing in dogs and cats starts at the cellular level at around seven years of age, so we should be making changes to nutrition at this time. There are many individual factors to consider, but, in general, I recommend a food that meets the following requirements for seniors:
- Supports the maintenance of lean muscle mass.
- Controlled phosphorous and sodium levels to support kidney and heart health.
- High levels of omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation and maintain kidney, heart and joint health.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate to support cartilage.
- High levels of antioxidants to maintain healthy functioning of the brain.