Inevitably, our once tiny, cuddly bundle of fluff, will start to get older.
Often we don’t want to think of our pets as being old as it feels like we are on the downhill slope.
However, with the increases in medical expertise and availability of healthcare options, our pets are living longer and longer. This leads to the quandary of how best to look after our companions and give them the support they need in their later years.
Cats are considered geriatric by the time they reach 10 years old. Just as in humans, this means there are often issues relating to their vital organ functions, so being vigilant and paying close attention to any changes in our cats behaviour can enable us to detect potential issues earlier, giving them the best chance of managing these changes for a longer happier life.
Common complaints include:
Obesity – This is a huge risk in our older pets as with age, they tend to become less active. So dietary adjustments need to be made, to reduce any additional pressure being overweight places on vital organs such as the heart, liver, kidneys and intestines. Senior diets are well formulated to provide what our pets need. Principally we need to increase fibre, essential fatty acids and vitamins, whilst reducing fat, protein and sodium.
Diabetes – This is commonly seen in aged cats, sometimes due to additional weight gain, but also due to the pancreas no longer functioning as well as it once did. If you notice increased thirst, please get in touch, it can indicate many issues, but diabetes is a key one to rule out.
Arthritis – Common early signs include a reduced ability to groom their coat, and struggling to manoeuvre themselves into their litter box, leading to more edge of the litter tray accidents. There are a number of medications we can use to try to help with this.
Dental disease – Tartar will always try to form. It arises from bacterial build up in the mouth, and can lead to tooth loss, pain and inflammation.
Coat condition changes – Often as our cats age, the coat loses its elasticity. This can contribute to making grooming harder and potential increase in injury risk. Helping your cat to groom by brushing them regularly, and fatty acid supplementation, can be very useful.
There is quite a wide variation across our dog breeds as to when they are deemed senior.
Typically this will be around seven years of age, although it may be older for smaller breeds, and potentially even younger for large breeds.
As with the advice aimed at cats above, obesity is a big risk for our dogs, due to reduced activity and general slowing up. However, sudden weight loss is also a big cause for concern and shouldn’t be ignored.
Exercising your older dog needs careful consideration. They shouldn’t be jumping into or out of cars, so it may be worth investing in a ramp to help them out. Older dogs are very prone to arthritis, so sudden pressure loads should be avoided, such as jumping and sudden direction changes when playing fetch. It is important to keep them moving with regular gentle exercise. There are many joint supplements available to try to help maintain joint health too.
Weight gain is best managed with a controlled diet. There are many good senior diets available to provide the necessary nutrients for optimal health.
Be aware that your older dogs sense’s may not be as good as they once were. Try not to startle them when they are asleep with any loud sudden bangs. Some may be being selectively deaf, but in others, there is a genuine change and they may not be aware of your presence or being called from across the garden, so need a little more time to become aware of what you are asking them to do.
Eyesight can also start to deteriorate, so try to speak to them before you approach, and allow them time to sniff your hand before petting them. This can avoid a nasty startle response, which can occur in even the gentlest dog when surprised.
Elderly female dogs can also start to struggle to hold their urine. Bladder control deteriorates with age, so we can see urine leakage creeping into daily life. Genuine incontinence will often produce leakage of urine so you will notice wet patches where your dog has been lying down or sleeping. However, there can be other reasons for incontinence, so seek assistance if you notice this.
Main points to note would be to pay close attention to your dog, and if you notice any of the following changes, do not hesitate to contact your vet for advice and possible investigation:
- Changes in appetite
- Increased thirst
- Smelly breath
- Weight loss
- Joint stiffness or difficulty rising or getting onto things
- Any new lumps and bumps
- Development of a cough
- Increasingly lethargic/tired on walks
- Difficulty toileting
- Vaginal discharges
- Any confusion/disorientation