Most of us understand the difference between puppies and dogs, or kittens and cats – you sense the change in size and behavior – but the shift from pet to senior pet can be more subtle. It’s important to know when your cat or dog is senior, though, as the care and attention you give them needs to shift as they age.
When is my dog or cat a senior?
In general, dogs or cats are considered to be seniors after 7 years of age. However, larger dogs have shorter lifespans, so they are often senior by 5 or 6 years old. Despite common wisdom, dogs do not age exactly 7 years for each human year. The American Veterinary Medical Association prepared this chart to help age your dog or cat:
How are senior pets’ needs different?
Aging is not a disease, but it does bring with it changes in your pets’ health and behavior. Pay attention to these changes, and you can make simple adjustments to help keep your pet happy in his or her later years.
Here are common health issues in older pets, and how you can help.
More likely to get diseases. As pets’ organs age, they are more susceptible to kidney, heart and other organ diseases. They are also more likely to get cancer, which is the cause of half of all pet deaths after age 10. Senior dogs are more likely to get cancer than cats.
- To help: Keep your yearly well checks with your veterinarian, and always mention any changes in your pet’s eating and drinking habits, activity or personality.
Reduced sight and hearing. Like humans, pets’ senses may become less acute as they age. They may develop cataracts, which can reduce eyesight or make them blind.
- To help: Prepare for this by teaching dogs hand commands (instead of just vocal), and don’t rearrange furniture or add big obstacles to your home as dogs or cats become blind. Talk to your vet about the pros and cons of cataract surgery for your pet.
Reduced activity or increased soreness due to arthritis. Your dog may stop walking and playing as much as he used to, or your cat may no longer like to be petted in a certain place because it’s sore. You may notice pets having trouble getting out of bed, or no longer jumping up to places they used to like.
- To help: If your pets start moving less, seem grumpy, or have trouble getting out of bed, be sure to have them checked by a veterinarian. Your vet can offer medications and other treatments to help relieve discomfort. Additionally, small changes like getting orthopedic beds or adding ramps can help improve your pet’s quality of life.
Changes in behavior. Several parts of the aging process can affect how your pet behaves: arthritis discomfort, confusion from lost hearing or sight, or general maturity. Pets can also show signs of confusion while aging, similar to human senility.
- To help: Talk with your veterinarian about any changes your pets start showing. Some can be helped with medication, others with a few changes in your home. Your vet can also determine if that occasional confusion is becoming cognitive dysfunction, and how to respond appropriately.
In general, your senior pet can have a wonderful quality of life and give you many more happy years, as long as you give pets a little help along the way. You may not get hikes that last as long as before, and you may need to give a daily anti-inflammatory medicine, but your pets will still provide love and companionship for all their years.
Many thanks to the AVMA for resources that helped with this article.