As a veterinarian, I have always associated a senior pet with our elders. If we look closely at pets when they get older, we notice that they also begin to whiten (around the snout most often), their fur thins, movement becomes more difficult for them, some may eat less than before or gain weight, their vision blurs, their hearing decreases, etc.
Old age does not necessarily mean a sad stage. The senior in question may have many years left to spend with those who love him. Of course, you need to pay more attention to some aspects related to its care, especially those that could help him live longer.
At What Age are Dogs and Cats Considered Old/Senior?
In dogs, the age at which they are considered seniors depends on the breed - small and toy breeds live longer (14-16 years) than large and giant breeds (10-12 years). Therefore, a Great Dane, which is a giant breed, for example, will be classified as old at 6 years old, and a Chihuahua (small/toy breed), at around 10-11 years old.
Cats generally live an average of 16 years, and they are considered old around the age of 10-12 years old.
Tips for Helping Your Senior Dog or Cat to Live Longer
Older pets, like humans, are prone to arthritis or muscle stiffness (dogs are more prone than cats). It is important to ensure your pet a life without pain. If your pet is suffering from arthritis, there are several ways you can improve its quality of life - acupuncture, massage, underwater treadmill therapy, laser therapy, supplements, anti-inflammatory drugs, etc. But no matter what procedure you want to follow, talk to your veterinarian first!
Steps to Follow at Home
Limit activity - With dogs, you can help them by giving them more time to start being a little active before going for a walk, for example. Try not to force it to walk and play as much as before. And for cats, it is good to be left at their own pace and not be forced to jump up or down.
Comfortable bed - You should also pay attention to the pet's bed - it should provide the necessary comfort, but also warmth when sleeping because older animals find it harder to regulate their body temperature. As well, you have to be careful at extreme temperatures.
Hearing/Vision Loss - Another common problem for older animals is the decrease of visual and auditory acuity or even their loss. If their hearing weakens, then get used to communicating with them through signs, instead of using your voice.
If your dog or cat starts to lose its sight, avoid making radical changes in the space in which it lives in order to be able to continue to move freely without hitting the new objects that appeared in its way. Keep in mind that your pet is adapted enough to the environment to manage around the house, using its smell and memory.
Proper Diet - Obesity is another problem that occurs in senior pets, especially if they are neutered. Due to lack of exercise and movement, pets gain weight quickly until they become obese.
If this is the case for your senior pet, it is necessary to adjust its diet, and more precisely to administer a special diet that corresponds to the needs of the senior dog or cat. This is exactly what happens to humans too - with age we have to be careful about how and what we consume to stay healthy!
A special diet will likely be established with the veterinarian according to the medical problems of your pet. Also, supplements for senior pets are a must-have if you want to prolong the life of your fluffy friend. These can help him with mobility problems, but also with the vitamin-mineral deficiencies that occur with old age.
Spring Naturals offers a Senior Dinner for dogs for a low-fat, high quality diet choice that helps maintain a healthy weight. Packed with essential amino acids and glucosamine, Spring Naturals’ Senior Dinner is the original low-glycemic, limited ingredient dog food crafted to be the most nutritionally balanced kibble available for your aging best friend.
Regular teeth cleaning - Teeth are another aspect to consider when your pet becomes a senior. Dogs are especially affected by dental problems - tartar and gingivitis in particular. Tartar is formed by impregnating the bacterial plaque (the film of bacteria and food debris accumulated especially at the base of the teeth) with calcium salts present in saliva.
Accumulations of tartar will cause irritation and inflammation of the gums that can bleed even at a light touch. Over time, gingival retraction will occur, as well as the appearance of periodontal disease that can lead to tooth loss.
Gingivitis, unfortunately, can cause complications such as kidney, liver, and heart disease. If the gums are inflamed (gingivitis), bacteria from dental diseases can enter the bloodstream more easily, providing an "access point", affecting not only the kidneys, but also the liver and heart. Advanced dental problems can be considered a contributing factor to kidney disease in dogs.
It is estimated that 85% of dogs over the age of five suffer from periodontal disease, which occurs due to tartar. Try to take them regularly to the veterinarian for a dental check-up and for a descaling; it has the role of removing the tartar.
In addition, it can teach you how to brush your dog's teeth correctly. If you can't brush your dog's teeth, use special supplements to clean their teeth or dental treats (they help clean the teeth and improve gums blood circulation).
When it comes to cats, many adult cats end up with dental problems, especially after the age of 5-6 years. It is estimated that the percentage of animals prone to tooth disease is 80%.
Pet skincare - The skin of senior pets also suffers, because, over time, it no longer produces as many natural oils to keep it supple and hydrated. Try to brush your dog's or cat's fur as often as possible to stimulate the secretion of oils. In addition, you can use care products that moisturize the skin, including supplements with salmon oil, which will help your four-legged friend's skin, eyesight, and heart.
Mental stimulation - Keep your pet mentally active. As I mentioned earlier, pets end up not being as active as they get older, and they tend to get bored faster. Give your pet something to do all the time, such as making him sniff after food, hiding it in various places, or tie a figurine to it and hang it on something (for cats). For this activity, the most recommended are food puzzles.
Also, if your dog is still active and moving a little, you can take him to explore new places with new scents, meet other pets, or you can teach it new tricks. All of these help to keep their mind active.
Avoid secondhand smoke - Exposure of your pet to secondhand smoke is not recommended, as cigarette smoke is extremely harmful to them and causes respiratory problems, including increasing the risk of lung cancer. It is recommended not to smoke in the same room as the pets.
Regular vet visits - Schedule annual visits to the vet's office. If your pet is young and healthy, one visit a year to your veterinarian will be enough for regular checkups. With advancing age, it is recommended to make a visit at 6 months, so two check-ups per year.
There, the doctor will do the usual blood tests, abdominal and cardiac ultrasound examinations, an ophthalmological examination, prescribe supplements that will help your pet with mobility, teeth, and vitamin-mineral imbalances, will prescribe a new diet that suits its needs, etc. A consultation every few months can identify various medical problems in advance that will affect its quality of life if they are not kept under control. Also, if your senior dog or cat has a medical condition, you will need to increase the frequency of these visits, but this is something you will decide with your pet's veterinarian.
And last but not least, give your senior pet a lot of love and attention!
We only want our pets to live as long as possible and lead a quality life. You can do that if you start with some of the things listed above when your pet is a puppy or a kitten:
- Feed your dog or cat a high-quality diet, not with food scraps;
- Make it exercise and move regularly;
- Take it to the vet regularly;
- Get all the vaccines and deworming when they are scheduled;
- Neuter or spay your pet;
- Start training;
- Socialize your pet;
- Do not expose it to secondhand smoke;
- Love our pet from start until the end;
Not all pets age the same, and you as an owner need to be prepared for this inevitable event. With age, they begin to have less and less energy, the visual and auditory acuity decreases, they can gain weight, joint pain and muscle stiffness will occur, etc. All this may seem scary, but remember that they do not all appear at once - and by no means overnight - and you will have time to adapt to the needs of your senior dog or cat.
Pay attention and with proper care, your fluffy friend will maintain his health and continue to lead a happy life for many years to come.
Dr. Iuliana Mihai, DVM, Masters In Small Animals And Equines Pathology
Iuliana graduated from the University of Agronomical Sciences and Veterinary Medicine in 2012, Romania. She has a Master’s degree in Small Animal and Equines Pathology and a strong affinity for Veterinary Parasitology and Laboratory. In 2013 she started her Ph.D. in epithelial cancer in dogs and cats. She volunteered at the faculty’s clinic at her 3rd year of study, and continued her career in small animal pathology and laboratory. She has one cat and eleven rats. Her interests outside of work include traveling, writing, and crafting.