Senior moments require paws-itive action by pet parents
December 20, 2018
Old age ain’t for sissies and until you’ve experienced it to one degree or another, it’s hard to comprehend the shifts growing old can bring. Our elderly furry family members are far more stoic than we are and, while in our hearts they feel like they’re our children, sadly they speed by us when it comes to the advancement of age-related changes.
How old is old? Cats are generally considered senior citizens around age ten. While the typical lifespan of felines is upwards of 12 years, Dr. Nancy Bureau, owner of Left Hand Animal Hospital in Niwot, said, “The oldest cat on record was 38 years of age, and many cats can live into their 20’s or more.”
It’s a bit fuzzier to determine when our dogs are old though. The size of a dog needs to be taken into consideration because larger dogs simply age more quickly. Giant canine breeds, such as Mastiffs are considered elderly around six years old, while a miniature poodle has another five years before reaching that status. The official oldest dog lived to be nearly 29 and a half years old.
What ails them?
Just like us, arthritic and mobility issues can case dawdling and less fluid movements, and are the likely first harbingers of senior status. Jumping on their favorite chair or running after a toy might involve observable effort. Providing soft places to sleep, and adding ramps or a set of stairs can be a big relief to aging pets.
“You might notice them being slower at getting up, limping, or not being able to take as long of walks as they used to,” Dr. Lise Cummings of Niwot Veterinary Clinic said. ”Vets can help by prescribing medications or supplements.”
Sleeping may dominate their days. Cat naps might become drawn-out and dogs may plop down in places you wouldn’t normally find them simply because they’re tuckered out.
Vision and hearing loss are common as they reach the geriatric stage so your favorite greeter may take longer to get to the door when you get home. Once bright eyes eventually get cloudy and your pet might get stuck in a corner they would normally navigate away from. To be on the safe side, put gates at the top of stairs.
“Eyesight changes can be helped by adding more night lights inside the house and, if the pet goes outside, outside lights also,” Bureau said. “Hearing changes can be helped by teaching hand signals to pets before their hearing changes a lot, so that the pet parent and the pet can continue to communicate even if the pet becomes deaf.”
Behavioral changes and moodiness are not just human maladies. Cummings said. “Older pets can develop a condition similar to Alzheimer's disease. They may act confused, have changes in their sleep habits, forget their potty training, or develop anxiety.”
Diseases affecting the liver, thyroid, or kidneys, and diabetes become more prevalent as pets age. Watch for lethargy or hyped-up activity, excessive drinking, not using the litter box, incontinence, frequent urination, weight loss, vomiting or diarrhea, all possible indications of changes in organ function.
Heart disease shows up as coughing, wheezing or labored breathing, overall weakness, abdominal swelling, and social withdrawal in dogs and cats.
“Diabetes, heart disease, and kidney and liver disease are often addressed with dietary changes to help decrease the work these organs have to perform and, if needed, supplements and medications are used,” Bureau said.
Many elderly pets experience dental issues leading to rotting teeth, systemic bacteria, pain, and poor appetites. Odd new lumps and bumps aren’t always a concern, but to be on the safe side, they should be checked out.
The best recommendations to keep our fur-babies as young as possible are annual or semi-annual veterinarian visits, dental cleanings at home and by professionals, high quality life stage appropriate food, and regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight. Acupuncture, massage, medication, and supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin can alleviate inflammation and pain resulting in our pets being more comfortable and enthusiastic.
Bureau said, “Above all, seeing a veterinarian can help pets live long, happy, healthy lives. Veterinarians can help listen to the pet parent’s goals for their animal friends, and can come up with a plan for that pet to live a happy life.”