Everything you need to know about caring for your senior dog or cat

By Tinamaria Colaizzi

November is both Senior Pet Month and Adopt a Senior Pet month, and it’s a great time to remember that older dogs and older cats make wonderful additions to families.

Thanks to advances in veterinary care and research, our loyal companions are living longer than ever before. Even so, it’s important to understand and be prepared for the changes that come along with your dog or cat’s aging process.

Whether you’ve just adopted an older pet or you’ve had your dog or cat since they were young, you may have some questions about how to best care for your senior companion.

How old is my dog or cat?

If you’ve ever wondered, “How old is my dog in human years?” or if you adopted your cat from the shelter, rest assured that there are a few different ways to figure out your pet’s age.

Ways to determine your pet’s age will differ slightly for dogs and cats, but you can also rely on your pet’s teeth and dental health as one way to determine their age.

How old is my dog in human years?

You might be familiar with the well-known phrase, “One dog year is seven human years”. However, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) notes that this calculation is not entirely accurate. A dog’s aging process isn’t linear (like that of humans). Your dog’s age in human years also depends on two factors: its breed and size.

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), dogs can age an equivalent of 12 to 15 human years (depending on size) within their first full year of life. Once they reach age three, they mature approximately four human years each year. The AKC's chart is a quick and easy reference tool that will help you calculate your dog’s age in human years.

You can find more information about identifying your dog’s age in this article, “How to determine dog years to human years”.

How old is my cat in human years?

Understanding your cat’s age in human years is a bit simpler when compared to calculating a dog’s age because it does not vary depending on size. Similar to dogs, however, cats can age an equivalent of 15 human years within their first full year of life.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), cats also mature around four human years, each year, once they reach the age of two.

At what age is a dog considered a senior?

The Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) considers dogs to be “seniors” around age seven. Of course, this will vary slightly depending on the specific size, breed, and lifestyle of your dog. Generally speaking though, large breeds are considered senior at approximately age six, whereas smaller breeds typically reach senior status anywhere from seven to ten years. Once your dog reaches a “geriatric age” (a term your vet may use to describe your loyal companion), the AVMA recommends scheduling veterinary visits twice a year.

How old is a “senior cat”?

According to the 2021 Feline Life Stage Guidelines (developed by the AAHA and the American Association of Feline Practitioners [AAFP]), a cat is considered to be senior at 10 years old. The AAFP also recommends that elderly cats have checkups with the vet every four to six months.

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What are some signs that your dog or cat is getting older?

Keep in mind that each pet is different, and the benchmarks on aging should be used as a guide to help you navigate your pet’s unique healthcare needs. Perhaps your elderly cat displays kitten-like behaviour from time to time, or your older dog still enjoys playing long games of fetch. Paying attention to the specific signs of aging in your pet puts you one step closer to providing them with proper care and comfort as they enter their golden years. Keep in mind that shifts in behaviour, appetite, and activity in pets of any age can represent a medical concern, so it’s best to discuss any new changes with your veterinarian.

Obesity or changes in weight

Although your senior cat or dog may have the same appetite as they did in their younger years, you may notice that they gain weight more easily as they age. It may be necessary to adjust your pet’s diet in order to accommodate for slower metabolisms and less active lifestyles.

Sometimes, weight loss can also be a sign of a potential digestive issue or muscle mass loss in an elderly dog. The CKC notes that elderly pets tend to lose lean body mass during the aging process. Ensuring that your older dog receives a high-quality protein diet is one way to help maintain lean body mass.

Mobility issues or arthritis

Mobility issues caused by arthritis can be a common problem for senior pets. You may start to notice that your senior dog is hesitant to go down the stairs, or has difficulty using their hind legs. Weight gain can also put extra stress on your pet’s joints, potentially worsening the issue.

You may also notice your elderly cat slowing down or not being able to jump as high as they once did when they were kittens. Cat owners should also be vigilant of the most common chronic disease affecting over 90 percent of senior cats: degenerative joint disease (DJD).http://localhost:3001/ca/blog/caring-for-your-senior-dog-or-cat?host=https://www.24petwatch.com Common symptoms include an altered gait or obvious joint stiffness, which can make it difficult for affected cats to groom themselves.

Behavioural or mental changes

As your pet ages, you may observe some behavioural changes, ranging from increased anxiety to general confusion.

When it comes to senior dog behaviour, a decreased response to commands could be a result of hearing or vision loss. If you think your pet may be suffering from one of these ailments, your vet can check for cataracts, other ocular diseases such as orbital neoplasms and glaucoma, or auditory issues. If your senior pet is experiencing a decline in their sight or sound abilities as they age, try utilizing a combination of both visual and auditory commands. Doing so will give them the best opportunity to understand you.

You may also observe some changes in your senior cat’s behaviour, including irritability or less of a desire to play. In general, most geriatric cats appreciate calm, predictable days over new experiences, so keeping them indoors in a safe space can be a great way to practice senior cat care.

How can I keep my senior pet healthy?

Once you’re familiar with the common signs of aging, you’ll be more prepared to do your best when accommodating these changes in your senior dog or senior cat’s lifestyle.

If you suspect that your pet is in pain, reach out to your veterinarian as soon as possible. There are many lifestyle adjustments, including diet changes, physical therapies, and other senior-friendly activities that can help your geriatric dog or cat live a happy and comfortable life. Speak to your veterinarian about which options would be most suitable and beneficial for your pet.

Even if your beloved companion is walking at a slower pace or showing less of a desire to go on long walks, it’s still necessary to make sure the information registered to your dog or cat’s microchip is up-to-date with your current contact information. This is the most reliable way to identify a lost pet and have them reunited with their owner, in the unfortunate event that they go missing. Lifetime Warranty ID Tags are also a great way to display your pet’s name and unique microchip number. They are long lasting, durable and come with a lifetime warranty.

It’s important that old indoor cats or senior dogs with mobility issues are still getting the exercise they need. Introducing short walks throughout the day or a more active form of playtime can help your pet remain mobile and happy.

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The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.