Every pet is an individual, and this applies to aging too. As a general guide cats are considered mature at 7 to 10 years and senior at 11 to 14 years. In dogs, the breed and size of the dog has a lot to do with their aging. Great Danes and other giant breeds are considered middle aged at 5 years and seniors at 7 years. Small breed dogs are middle age from 7 and seniors from 9 years. The age chart (figure 1) will give you an indication of your pets age.
Pocket pets also age like cats and dogs; ferrets and rabbits can start showing symptoms of old age from 5 years.
Just like us, changes start during middle age and clinical disease may begin to exhibit very obvious signs during your pet’s senior years. Sometimes the changes will be so gradual that you may not notice them. Things to look out for in your furry friend:
- Sleeping more than normal.
- Lumps, bumps and growths.
- Showing stiffness getting up or jumping.
- Being less inclined to play or interact with you or other pets.
- Smelly breath and becoming a picky eater.
- Incontinence; particularly during the night.
- Gaining (or losing) weight/condition unexpectedly.
- Becoming confused or anxious. They may start crying or barking through the night or start showing other odd behaviours you had not noticed previously.
There are ways to combat the signs of aging in your pet to help them grow old gracefully.
1. Make a consultation with us your first step.
As previously mentioned, pet’s often start developing changes during middle age which can become clinical disease once they become seniors. By making regular visits (6 monthly) visits we can get a very good indication on what is considered normal for your pet, and easily pick up any changes outside of this. If you are already coming in once a year for vaccination and check ups, make this additional senior check 6 months later.
2. Consider a dietary change.
As your pet ages, they will become less active and need less calories as a result. With 46% of Australian pets overweight or obese, incorrect nutrition plays a huge role in premature aging and joint issues in pets. It’s important to limit portion sizes and use vegetables or low fat commercially made options for treats.
There are more commercially available diets now that are aimed at increasing the longevity for your pet as well as highly specialised diets for pets with health issues such as kidney disease, arthritis and even brain aging! Consider talking to one of our friendly team about what diet may best suit you and your budget as well as improve the health and well being of your middle age/senior pet.
3. Getting your pet moving!
As your pet gets older, their lifestyle may start to become more sedentary which can in turn expedite the effects of joint disease and arthritis.
For dogs: take them on short walks to keep their muscles toned. It is important to monitor your pet during exercise and keep the sessions short and sweet; maybe 10 to 15 minutes. Long walks for dogs suffering joint issues can make the problem much worse. Ideally two short walks a day is best to keep your older dog comfortable.
For cats: You can consider taking them on short walks (on a harness and lead) or encourage them to play ‘go find’ with food and treats on a cat pole or around the house. Anything which stimulates their active minds even if only for 5 minutes at a time is going to help to keep your cat’s muscles and joints in better condition.
For ferrets: You may need to consider getting a smaller cage with less ramps as they might start finding it harder to go up and down. Senior ferrets will sleep more, but having play time out of the cage is still important. There are options for arthritis treatment available, so contact the clinic for more information.
4. Monitor dental health.
You have probably heard it a lot, but good dental health in pets is so important. Poor dental hygiene can have ramifications in almost every major organ including the heart, kidneys, liver and brain, not to mention terrible breath and chronic pain. We offer free dental checks all year round for your pets, so there really is no excuse as to why you can’t have this part of your pet’s health maintained.
Dental health can be improved by the addition of a dental diet; through the use of clinically proven dental treats however nothing is as effective as daily brushing. Check out our video on how to brush your pet’s teeth and also book in for a free dental check asap!
5. Consider annual blood testing.
Blood testing is a great addition to consider as part of your senior pet’s bi-annual checks. There are literally hundreds of blood tests that can be run, but a good place to start is what we call a ‘Total Annual Health Profile.” This test covers all the major organs and can detect underlying issues before they start to show symptoms. Repeated annually, the tests provide an excellent picture of your pets health and provide a baseline for us to use should your pet ever become unwell.
6. Getting around and staying comfortable.
As pets age, they can start to lose some of their senses. Blindness and deafness is very common in older animals so it’s always a good idea to try and minimise changes in furniture and the layout around the house. Put gates in place to avoid your pet falling or getting trapped in an area they might not be as familiar with. Consider installing ramps to help your pet get up and down from furniture or up and down the staircase. For cats, ferrets and rabbits make sure litter trays are easily accessible as the traditional high sided trays get harder for them to climb into as they become more stiff.
Look at getting orthopaedic bedding for your pets as well. Some options come with heating elements to minimise the compression on joints. Heated blankets can be considered if they can be used safely without risk of pets chewing.
7. Keeping their brains turning over.
Contrary to the old saying, you can teach your old dog new tricks. Brain training for your pet can keep them young at heart, so consider enrolling in a weekly training class or teach them a new trick every week. There are also a slew of puzzle toys on the market that can keep your pet thinking while snacking. This can also have the double benefit of keeping their bodies moving.
8. Increase your contact.
As pets age so much faster than us, every opportunity to spend time with them should be maximised. Nothing tells your pet that you love them like a good belly rub or ear scratch. Therapeutic massage is a great way to reinforce your bond, and can be relaxing for both yourself and your furry friend. It can also help those with joint pain and discomfort.
Some pets can also have difficulty grooming themselves and may benefit from extra brushing now and then. Be sure to use softer brushes and reward them during and after a good grooming session.
Celebrate Seniors month is in July – Follow our Facebook page for offers and discounts as part of Senior Month.