As in humans, the effects of the ageing process will vary with each individual pet. For cats, the first signs of ageing start anywhere between the ages of seven and eleven with cats over 14 being considered geriatric. This is a little more complicated in dogs as size and breed pay a huge role in the speed of ageing.
What to expect when your pet starts to show signs of age?
The first sign of ageing is often a general decrease in activity, combined with a tendency to sleep more. Old pet’s bodies are not as mobile, and reflexes are not as quick as they once were.
Hearing, eyesight and the senses of smell and taste may deteriorate gradually. Many elderly pets eventually develop signs of senility with loss of memory, reduced ability to cope with changes in their routine, separation anxiety, or inappropriate urination or defaecation.
Sooner or later significant changes will occur which require attention and should not be accepted as ‘just due to old age’. These changes are signs of disease or discomfort and may be improved with some care.
Keeping your senior pet comfortable
Older pets are fond of their regular routine and like to live a peaceful life. They are often less willing to be groomed or have their ears, mouth or claws tended to. This can be due to ageing or may be a sign of pain or discomfort.
Reduced nail care and hardening of the nails can lead to them growing too long and curl into the pad, which is painful and can lead to infections. It may therefore be necessary to start trimming older pet’s nails on a regular basis.
Grooming is necessary to keep the coat in good condition, especially in long-haired breeds. Because the quality of the hair changes with age, more regular grooming may be necessary in older pets.
Pets with deteriorating eyesight or hearing may be more easily startled or may fail to respond at times. a deterioration in eyesight can be a consequence of age, but it may also be an early warning sign of disease which may lead to total blindness or be related to other treatable, but potentially life-threatening diseases such as diabetes.
Some pets (most commonly dogs) with hearing problems can be taught sign language instead of normal commands, so that they will still know when their owners want them to come or sit down.
Older pets need a warm, soft bed, which should be in a place away from the hustle and bustle of family life. It is important to make sure that everyone knows not to disturb your pet when he/she retires to this private place.
Regular exercise is important to prevent stiffness and loss of muscle mass. Older dogs often suffer from arthritis, but not all of them are overtly lame. Stiffness or unwillingness to go for normal walks can also be signs of chronic pain. In cats, signs of stiffness can include difficulty jumping on to furniture or more time spent sleeping.
Nutrition and weight control
Some pets tend to gain weight as they age, usually because they are less active and spend more time sleeping. Excess weight can worsen health problems such as heart disease or arthritis.
Other pets have the opposite problem and lose weight. This is sometimes just because their senses of smell and taste deteriorate, often however, the weight loss is due to an underlying chronic disease or ‘wear and tear’ on the body and may initially be the only sign of problems.
If your cat starts to lose weight, it is advisable to arrange an appointment with your Vet.
Some older pets start to drink more than they used to, and this is usually a sign of a developing disease (for example kidney problems or diabetes), therefore it is important to monitor your pet’s water intake carefully as they age.
Older pets are more prone to disease and, as prevention is usually better than cure, it is a good idea to start thinking about the health of your older pet before signs of disease are obvious.
Older pet’s immune systems become less efficient; infections are picked up more easily. In view of this, regular booster vaccinations are still advisable in senior dogs and cats.
Regular worming is also advisable, both for your pet’s health and for that of your family and other humans.
More frequent health checks may be advisable with additional tests such as blood pressure measurement, urine or faecal analysis, and/or blood tests and will be discussed on an individual basis.
Many older pets are in chronic pain, for example due to tooth problems or arthritis. Constant low-grade pain reduces their quality of life considerably, just as it would for a human. These are problems that can generally be effectively managed with rapid detection.
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Linnaeus Veterinary Group Trading as Willows Veterinary Centre and Referral Service Ltd Highlands Road Shirley Solihull B90 4NH