You never expect it, you never think about it either, but one day your pet is going to reach their senior years and they’ll get there before you even realize it. As with people, pets age gradually and by taking the correct steps right from the beginning of seniorhood, you can help your pet live their best life, no matter their age. Let’s learn about when a pet becomes a senior, the changes you’ll notice and how you can help your pet in their senior years.
At what age does your pet become a senior?
A dog’s and cat’s senior status largely depends on their breed and size. Most small-sized dogs reach their senior age when they are 11 years of age in human years. Medium-sized dogs at 10, large-sized dogs at 8 and giant-sized dogs at 7 human years. Cats attain their senior age at 11 human years.
What changes will you notice when your pet becomes a senior?
Like us, our pets too go through some physical and behavioral changes as they start getting older. Here are a few changes you may notice in your senior pets:
- Sensitivity towards temperature changes
Your senior pet’s body may not adjust to the temperature like it could before. Older dogs and cats need to be kept extra warm in the winters and should stay in cool and breezy areas in the summers.
- Loss of hearing
A slight hearing loss is hard to determine in older dogs and cats. Some senior dogs may even show aggression or bark at anything random as they can no longer hear commands very well. Hence, it is encouraged to teach your dog hand signs right from the puppy stage. It’s harder to determine hearing loss in cats as they usually do not respond to their pet parents.
- Loss of vision
As pets get older, they may develop cataracts or eye problems that may obstruct their vision. Although pets rely more on their hearing and smelling senses, we don’t want them to lose their eyesight. Some senior pets who turn blind can be helped with a Guide Dog or a sibling who will help them to move around. If you think your senior pet is displaying signs of vision loss, talk to a vet immediately.
- Dental problems
Older dogs and cats may also develop dental issues like loose teeth, gum problems or bad breath. This can also result in a decreased appetite or reluctance to eat. Maintaining good oral hygiene right from the beginning is important.
- Weight gain or loss
Metabolic changes can cause older dogs and cats to lose or gain weight even when the calorie intake and exercise routine remains the same.
- Breathing change
As pets age, their hearts get older too. This may result in louder, labored breathing and pose other heart-related risks as well. If you notice heavy breathing in your pet, you should bring it to your vet’s attention.
- Stiffness and limping
Health problems in dogs and cats like arthritis and hip dysplasia are very common, especially in older large breed dogs. These problems can lead to pain and stiffness in their joints. You may notice problems in their legs, hips or shoulders. This can be helped with surgery, medication and supportive therapy options depending on your pet’s condition.
Behavioral changes in pets are common and sometimes pet parents may conclude the only possible reason for these changes to be- senility. However, there could be multiple reasons for these changes. Physical changes like pain from arthritis, dental problems or metabolic changes can also lead to behavioral changes in older dogs and cats. Identifying the cause of behavioral changes is the first step to treating them.
Behavioral changes are covered under Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS). Veterinarians have classified the following behavioral changes that may be related to CDS. The acronym given to these behaviors is DISHA.
- Disorientation: Getting stuck behind furniture, staring blankly at walls, going to the wrong side of the door are some behaviors your senior pets may display.
- Interactions: Unusual behavior when interacting with familiar people and pets or displaying aggressiveness, irritability, increased attention-seeking, less social interactions may stem from other physical changes that your pet is experiencing.
- Sleep cycle changes: Older dogs and cats may sleep more during the days and have trouble sleeping at night.
- House soiling: Senior dogs and cats can have lower bowel control and may end up soiling inside the house. Cats may defecate outside their litter box and dogs may sometimes defecate inside the house after coming back from their walk.
- Activity changes: Decreased level of activity, more time spent resting, increased repetitive behaviors like pacing, wandering aimlessly, walking in circles are some activity changes you may notice in senior dogs and cats.
If you’re noticing behavioral changes in your pet, speak to a behavior specialist for treatment options.
How to help your senior dog and cat with the changes that come with old age?
The changes that come with old age are inevitable but as pet parents, we can try our best to increase the longevity of our pets’ lifespan. Here are some measures you should incorporate from the beginning of your pet’s seniorhood.
- Healthy diet
Making sound dietary and nutritional choices is the most important factor of senior pet care. Because of reduced activity and metabolic changes, senior pets may require 20% lesser calories compared to their middle-aged self. Apart from that, problems like diabetes, obesity, weight loss and other health-related issues demand a diet that can suit their needs.
That is why it is important to consult a veterinarian or a diet consultant for pets who can give you the best food options. Look for cat and dog health supplements that can boost their immunity, improve the health of their liver and increase appetite or any other specific nutritional needs.
- Exercise and taking care of their physical health
It may take some extra effort to get your older pet (especially cats) to do some exercise but it’s all worth it. Regular and simple exercises help in:
- Keeping them physically and mentally active
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Slowing the progression of osteoarthritis and other old age-related problems
- Maintaining good motor skills and coordination
Simple, regular walks are recommended for older pets. Swimming is a great option for lubricating your dog’s joints and alleviating pain. Hydrotherapy is always recommended as a supportive therapy option for older dogs, as water provides support to their joints and makes their muscles stronger. Hot water can also help relax their muscles. There are many physical and natural therapy options that can alleviate your senior pet’s pain and keep them fit.
Always speak to a vet before opting for any treatment option or incorporating a new exercise regime.
Hydrotherapy session at Petsville, Pune. Swimming helps relieve pain, especially in older dogs.
- Taking care of their mental health
Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise mostly for cats as they have a more sedentary lifestyle as compared to dogs. Keep your senior pet’s mental health stimulated with puzzles, new toys, hide and seek and playing indoor games. Playing calming music for your pet can also help relieve the anxiety that most older dogs and cats experience. For anxiety, special classes that understand and treat your pet’s anxiety are also available. Apart from that, create a dedicated nook for your pet that they can go to whenever they need some quality alone time. This helps in keeping their cognitive health in a good condition.
Older dogs and cats may have a tougher time grooming themselves so help them out! More at-home grooming sessions and more frequent brushing are recommended. Bathing them also helps in looking for lumps, bumps or skin infections. To make it more convenient for your senior pet, call a groomer at home.
- Dental care
Aging dogs and cats are at a higher risk of dental diseases, gum problems, loose and cracked teeth which can be painful for your pet. Regular brushing with a pet-friendly toothbrush and toothpaste or using a brushless dental spray should be beneficial for your older pet. Avoid giving them hard bones or hard toys to chew. If you notice bleeding or swelling in the gums, loose or cracked teeth, call a vet immediately.
- Make home upgrades
Optimize your house to suit your senior pet’s needs. Place non-slip mats or rugs on slippery surfaces or switch the old bed with orthopedic heated beds. Senior pets don’t adjust to extreme temperatures easily so ensure that you also provide a warm rug or blanket with their favorite toys and keep the doors and windows closed. Keep the house as clutter-free as possible in this case with no sharp objects or open wires and sockets hampering your pet’s routine paths. Make sure they can move around the house easily and minimize the risk of accidents.
Vaccinations are important even for senior dogs and cats as they are more prone to infectious diseases because of lower immunity. Keep their vaccination schedule up to date and speak to your vet about any other vaccines your older pet would require.
- Pet insurance
Insurance companies these days also provide pet insurance plans that can cover any unexpected medical emergencies that your pet could experience in their old age. There are different kinds of plans that can cover the cost of treatments, certain diseases, injuries and hospitalization. Getting medical insurance for your pet can help you and your pet stay protected in any untimely situation.
- Controlling parasites
Older dogs and cats may not show clear signs of distress when they have ticks and fleas. That is where you have to ensure that they are free of any parasites by maintaining a regular schedule of tick and flea control. It is also important to keep their deworming in check. Your veterinarian can help you decide if any changes need to be made in their deworming or tick and flea schedule.
- Holistic therapy options
While NSAIDs and over-the-counter medicines may be prescribed to your pet, they may not always be the best option as they come with a set of side effects. Thankfully, today, there are many holistic therapy options available for pets. Some of them being:
- Hydrotherapy (for dogs)
- Oils like hemp seed oil and cannabis leaf extract oil
- Bach flower therapy
Hemp Seed Oil and CannaPaw™ which is a cannabis leaf extract oil have been making a lot of news for the amazing effects it has on alleviating pain especially in older dogs and cats.
CannaPaw™ is infused with cannabis leaf extract oil and helps treat arthritis, joint pain and skin infections.
Hemp Seed Oil, India’s first anti-inflammatory and skin soother oil for topical and oral use
The above therapy options help in alleviating pain and discomfort without any side effects. Your veterinarian may suggest a treatment plan for your pet with one or a combination of the above therapies.
Always consult a veterinarian before opting for any of the therapy options for your pet.
- Regular vet visits
Since it is harder to notice health issues in your senior pet it is recommended that you increase the frequency of wellness exams. 2 annual vet visits are recommended for older dogs and cats.
Call a vet at home if it is getting difficult to take your senior pet to the vet. Regular vet visits help in ensuring that everything is okay with your pet and there are no silent health abnormalities. If any, they can be detected and treated early on.
Your senior pet may be slower, inactive and a little harder to take care of but no matter what age, they will always need you by their side to hold them and love them for as long as they’re here.
Our vets, trainers, behaviorists, dieticians and groomers are only a call away like they’ll always be. Just call +91 8431620000 to get in touch.
Happy pet parenting!
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*Disclaimer: This blog is vet-approved and includes original content which is compiled after thorough research and authenticity by our in-house team of vets and content experts. It is always advisable to consult a veterinarian before you try any products, pet food or any kind of treatment/medicines on your pets, as each pet is unique and will respond differently.