When is my pet considered a senior?
Typically, a cat over 11 years old is considered a senior. For dogs, it depends on their size and breed. For smaller breeds (i.e. Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, Pugs), senior status begins at 11 years of age. Medium dogs (i.e. Basset Hounds, Huskies, Collies) become seniors at 10 years of age. For larger breeds (i.e. Great Danes, Mastiffs, Bernese Mountain Dogs), it is closer to 7 years old. In general, smaller breeds tend to live longer than larger breeds, but lifespan greatly depends on individual pets’ health and quality of care.
What are the signs of aging?
Just like in humans, cats and dogs go through several mental and physical changes as they age. Some of these mental changes can include changes in their sleep-wake cycle, fear of people or objects that they previously were not afraid of, forgetting commands they once knew, and increased generalized anxiety. For physical changes, we may see cloudy eyes, decreased vision and/or hearing, difficulty getting around, lumps and bumps, and increased urine and/or stool accidents.
What causes these changes?
Mental changes, especially in dogs, can begin as early as 8 years old. A condition called Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CCDS), more commonly known as “dog dementia”, affects up to 35% of these dogs and is very similar to Alzheimer’s in humans. This condition can be responsible for the mental changes we see in our pets as they age. Physical changes happen as their body gets older. Cloudy eyes occur slowly over time and shouldn’t affect their vision. However, it can also be an indicator of other eye diseases that may affect vision. Hearing loss is caused by missing or damaged sensory hair cells in the inner ear. Difficulty getting around is a sign of arthritis, usually due to the daily wear and tear of their joints and may be worse in overweight dogs. We may also notice lumps and bumps popping up across their body. It is common for older pets to develop fatty lipomas that are typically harmless unless bothersome to them. Lipomas usually feel soft, movable, and are under the skin. It is always recommended to get new lumps checked by your vet, as cats and dogs can develop cancerous growths as well. Lastly, you may notice your pet having more urine and/or stool accidents than normal. Just like in humans, animals can experience incontinence as they age due to weakened bladder muscles.
How can I support my aging pet?
The first thing you can do to support your aging friend is to get them checked out by their veterinarian annually, or more often as new issues develop. By doing this, you can see if the vet recommends any treatments or medications to help your pet through the golden years. One thing they may suggest are daily medications to help manage arthritis pain, incontinence, or anxiety. They may also have recommendations for diet or lifestyle changes, such as transitioning to a senior diet or starting physical therapies like hydrotherapy or laser treatments. Another good idea would be doing annual blood work to make sure their organs (like the liver and kidney) are functioning properly. Last but not least, it is important to discuss with your vet their quality of life. This is an objective way to determine if their quality of life is acceptable. Here is an example of a Quality of Life Scale. It assesses aspects of your pets life, like happiness, mobility, and pain. It can be a helpful tool in deciding if and when the time is right for your furry friend to cross the rainbow bridge.
Written by: Heather N.