Just like older humans, ageing pets may need a helping hand to feel well and live a happy, quality life.
Given that seven dog years is equal to one human year, canines age pretty fast. In general, most dog breeds are considered senior by the time they reach the ripe old age of seven or eight.
However, because a dog’s rate of ageing depends on what type of dog it is and its size, large dogs (weighing more than 40kg) are considered seniors once they reach the age of five! Check out this great age calculator to see what the true “human” age of the pets in your care is.
And, similar to humans, pets can experience the effects of ageing in many ways. This includes greying hair, lack of energy, changes in eyesight and arthritis.
Caring for ageing pets
Pet professionals can help pet owners to understand the changing needs of their ageing animal and advise them on the possible health concerns that may arise.
As pets age, their metabolism can alter so it may be necessary to make changes to their diet. Providing smaller meals more often may help with depleting energy levels. Even just changing from one big meal a day to two smaller meals can help.
Additionally, if the dog is requiring less exercise – perhaps due to sore joints or reduced energy – then it makes sense to reduce the size of their food portions.
As dogs age, they may also benefit from certain nutrients in their diet. Switching to a quality dog food that is specially designed for seniors can make sure they are getting all the necessary vitamins and minerals they need to age well.
Both dogs and cats can experience changes in their mood as they grow older. If you notice an animal’s behaviour has changed since its last vet visit or you care for a pet and recognise that it’s become grumpier in its old age, you can reassure its owner that this is normal.
It’s important for pet owners to recognise, or be alerted to, changes in behaviour so they can ensure it doesn’t become a problem, and that it is not symptomatic of a health issue.
For example, some dogs that may have once loved being around small children will become anxious or aggressive when they come into contact with little kids.
This type of behaviour needs to be identified so that the situations can be managed. For instance, the dog might have to be kept on the lead when taken for walks at the local park.
Of course, vets are also in an ideal position to identify whether changes in behaviour are linked to a health issue.
When pets slow down and decline physically, this can be an indicator of arthritis. Other signs of arthritis include:
- Difficulty getting up
- Yelping when touched
- Licking its joints
- Reluctance to walk or play
Educating pet owners on the signs of arthritis can help ensure the dog can get early intervention and appropriate treatment to help reduce their pain and discomfort over the long term.
The growing incidence of pet obesity in Australian is seeing an increased risk of some types of cancer. Without alarming clients, pet professionals can help educate pet owners on the signs and symptoms of cancer in cats and dogs.
According to Pet Health Network, signs of cancer in dogs (similar signs apply to cats) include:
- Abnormal swellings (lumps or bumps under the skin) that persist or continue to grow
- Sores or wounds that don’t heal, despite administering antibiotics or topical ointments
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
- Bleeding or discharge from any opening on the body
By ensuring owners recognise the signs of illness and the potential significance of such signs, vets and other pet professionals can help facilitate early and optimal cancer management and treatment.
While health issues such as heart disease, joint pain, cancer and heart disease can affect animals’ activity levels, it’s important to remind clients with ageing animals of the importance of regular exercise.
This doesn’t have to mean long walks but, as with ageing humans, keeping pets mobile through appropriate levels of physical activity will benefit their health and mobility.
Ageing pets can show signs of senility. To ensure older pets receive the best care, pet professionals can advise clients on the common signs that indicate deteriorating mental health.
Vet West Animal Hospital lists the following signs of cognitive dysfunction:
- Disorientation – seeming lost in familiar environments
- Changes in interactions with other humans or animals – such as loss of affection or irritability
- Changes to the sleep/wake cycle – for example, the animal may start waking in the night or sleep more during the day
- Learned behaviours deteriorate – for example, a house-trained pet may begin urinating indoors
- Activity levels alter
Advising owners on their ageing pet
Pet professionals are well placed to discuss the various factors or issues that may present in ageing pets. Vets can encourage owners to bring their senior pet in for a twice-yearly check-up to help identify and important indicators early.
However, pet owners can be encouraged to look out for critical signs. This includes the signs of disease, changes in behaviour or alterations to the animal’s routine.
By working together, pet professionals and pet owners can help identify potential health issues early and ensure appropriate measures are taken to optimise the quality of life for ageing pets.