What to do as your pet grows older
Senior pet is a term used to describe old pets. There are general guidelines to determine when pets become “senior citizens.” Cats are considered mature at seven to 10 years, senior at 11 to 14 years, and geriatric at 15 or older. Dogs, in general, may be called senior at seven years of age, but larger dogs age more quickly.
A Great Dane is a senior at six or seven, for example, but seven is only middle age for a Chihuahua. Ultimately, your pet’s genetics, nutrition and environment will all play a role in determining when he is a senior.
As a general rule of thumb, a dog who is seven years or older should be considered middle to senior aged, and a consultation with your vet is in order to determine the best health care maintenance programme for your dog as he or she ages.
Slowing down: You may notice that your dog slows down a little bit. It may not be as energetic as it used to be. There may be subtle changes in how it gets up, lays down, and uses stairs. There may be hesitation or stiffness.
Arthritis is common in dogs as they age, particularly large breeds. Arthritis can occur in any joint, most commonly the legs, neck and back (spine). There are many different medications available to help ease the discomfort of arthritis – see your vet if you notice any of these signs in your dog.
Graying around the face, muzzle: Most dogs commonly show a bit of gray starting at middle age (five to six years).
Reduced hearing: Early signs of thIs can be seen if your dog is hard to wake up after sleeping and if it becomes startled easily if you approach from behind. Hearing loss or deafness may be a reason for this.
If your dog does experience hearing loss, take care to protect it from hazards, such as cars and kids that s/he may not hear (or see). Dogs do learn and adapt well using hand signals to come, stay, sit, and so on. It is a good idea to “cross train” your dog early in life to recognise basic hand signals.
Cloudy or “bluish” eyes: As they age, dog’s eyes often show a bluish transparent “haze” in the pupil area. This is a normal effect of ageing, and the medical term for this is “lenticular sclerosis.” Vision does not appear to be affected. This is NOT the same as cataracts. Cataracts are white and opaque. Vision can be affected by cataracts, and your vet needs to be consulted.
Muscle atrophy: Mild loss of muscle mass, especially the hind legs, may be seen with old age. Some muscle atrophy, notably on the head and the belly muscles, can signify diseases such as masticatory myositis and Cushing’s disease. Be sure to have your vet check this out if any muscle loss is noted.
As your pet ages, it is important that you schedule regular health checks with its veterinarian. It is recommended that senior dogs see their vets at least every six months for a check-up. Many diseases and health issues, if diagnosed early enough, can be easily be nipped in the bud. Routine visits are also a good time to talk about your dog’s diet and exercise routine as well.
It is important that the following recommendations are adhered to:
Practise proper dental hygiene: This is important because tartar build-up can result in gingivitis, which can cause bacteria to get into the bloodstream, wreaking havoc on your dog’s organs.
Choose the dight diet: If your older pet is less active, he will need fewer calories. Dogs with joint problems may benefit from supplementation with glucosamine or fish oils. Pets with kidney or heart disease may also need special diets. Your veterinarian can design a feeding plan that addresses your pet’s specific nutritional needs and make recommendations if supplementation or a specialised diet is required.
Exercise: This helps your senior pet maintain a healthy body weight, and it helps slow the degeneration of joints from arthritis. Walking is excellent exercise. Listen to your dog: if he seems tired, it’s time to stop. Many elderly dogs will try to keep up with you and won’t know they’ve reached their limit. Make sure to keep water available, and don’t spend long periods outdoors in overly hot or humid weather.
Regular physical contact: Nothing tells your dog that you love him like a good belly rub. As your pet ages, physical contact is more important than ever. Therapeutic massage is great for animals with joint pain, and equally enjoyable for those without.
The average lifespan of our dogs is only between 13 and 14 years, yet they have the potential to live a much longer life if you monitor their health and nutrition, and take measures to keep them as healthy and happy as possible.