We love our pets. And, for many people, they are a part of the family. Therefore, naturally, you want them to be happy. On the same token, when they are in pain or are ill, you feel for them. So, it is quite natural to do everything you can to keep them healthy.
As pets age, there will be physical changes. But how do you know when it is just the process of aging or they have a medical problem? Since they can’t talk and tell us what is wrong this can be a problem.
Additionally, modern veterinary medicine is helping pets to live longer. This means we can enjoy them being a part of the family longer. But along with this longer lifespan, we are seeing pets develop problems common to aging. Therefore, they need veterinary care to have a good quality of life in their senior years. So, what can you do?
How Old Is Your Pet?
A good start is to keep up with the age of your pet and what to expect from their age. For example, below is an age chart for cats and dogs: You can at least get an idea of how old your pet is in human years to have an idea of what they could be experiencing physically.
Changes to Watch for in Senior Pets
Here are some common changes to expect as your pet ages:
1. Impaired sight and/or hearing
Similar to humans, pets will lose some of their sight and hearing as they age. Be aware that pets can develop cataracts (cloudiness of the eye lens). Cataracts can be resolved with surgery.
In regards to hearing, they may not respond as well to voice commands. But pets usually have a very good sense of smell. They will depend on this more as they age. They will use scents to be familiar with things around them. You can help them by limiting changes to their environment.
In either case of sight or hearing loss, use caution when letting your pet outdoors. They may not see or hear danger approaching such as a car or predators. For dogs, it is best if they are in a secured yard if they are kept outside. Otherwise, keep them on a leash at all times when they are outdoors. Keep your cat in a secured patio, porch, or indoors. There are many solutions to this such as putting up a catio or cat fence. Also,
The most common type of arthritis in pets is Osteoarthritis (degeneration of joint cartilage and the underlying bone). Typical signs of arthritis are difficulty moving or limping. A pet with arthritis may also show irritation when touched or petted (especially over the arthritic areas), and may seem more depressed or grouchy.
Two major contributors to arthritis are a sedentary lifestyle and obesity. To prevent or help alleviate arthritis, it is important to keep your pet at a healthy weight. If your pet is overweight, talk to your veterinarian to ensure you have your pet on the right diet and exercise.
Aging pets commonly experience some degree of incontinence, usually urinary. You may notice urine dribbling. Older pets can develop weak pelvic floors or poor bladder tone, which can result in urinary incontinence. However, there are many causes for incontinence. If you notice any changes in continence consult your veterinarian.
Dementia may not be as common as the other symptoms above but as pets are living longer you should be aware of these symptoms.
- Sleeping more within a 24-hour period.
- Losing interest or becoming apathetic.
- Intermittent anxiety expressed by apprehension, panting, moaning or shivering.
- Forgetfulness such as forgetting commands, not recognizing objects, no longer being housetrained, getting stuck behind furniture.
- Becoming overly aggressive.
- Disorientation such as failing to recognize people or places at times; getting lost.
- Less interaction with other pets or people.
- Change in sleep habits. May sleep more during the day but wander around more at night often accompanied by crying out for no apparent reason.
- Loss of house-training skills. This could be because they forget where the litter box is and/or have lost interest in keeping themselves clean.
The above are symptoms to watch for as your pet ages. Many of them can apply to other animals too. However, do not try to diagnose your pet yourself. There can be more than one cause for any one of these symptoms. But you can help your pet by observing what is going on with them and giving this data to your veterinarian so they can accurately diagnose and treat your pet.
Additionally, pets often hide the fact that they are in pain. For example, dogs like to please us so they may do what we ask even if it causes them pain. Cats instinctively hide their pain. Showing pain makes them weaker to predators. So hiding pain is a built in mechanism for their protection.
Therefore, regular yearly checkups are important to keep your pet healthy. As your pets age, they may require more frequent checkups.
If your pet has not had a checkup within the last year, contact us and schedule an exam.
Stacey Funderburk D.V.M.
Nokomis Veterinary Service