Thanks to better care and advances in veterinary medicine, dogs are living longer than ever before. As dogs get older, they require extra care and attention. Regular veterinary examinations can detect issues in older dogs before they become too advanced or life-threatening.
Owners often ask, “When does a pet become old?” It varies, but in general by the time a dog is 7 years old they are considered ”senior.” Large breeds tend to have shorter life spans than smaller breeds. The American Veterinary Medical Association uses the following chart:
Age: Human Equivalents for Older Dogs
Dog years Human years
It is normal for pets to lose some of their sight and hearing as they age. Pets with poor eyesight or even blindness can still get around well in familiar environments, although you should avoid rearranging the furniture. An older pet is also more likely to develop conditions such as heart, kidney, or liver disease; cancer; or arthritis. Pets do develop cancer and canceraccounts for almost half of the deaths of pets over the age of ten.
Older pets tend to become less active as part of the aging process and, in some pets, due to arthritis. If your pet is suffering from arthritis, your veterinarian can advise on proper care or medication. Using orthopedic pet beds, raised feeding platforms, and ramps may help your pet deal with arthritis. Keeping your older pet at a healthy weight will also help their joints.
Obesity is a common problem in older animals. As animals age and become less active, they need fewer calories. Besides the extra stress on joints, obesity can also increase the risk of heart disease, skin problems, high blood pressure, and other conditions.
Sudden weight loss is always a reason for concern, especially in cats. Older cats are susceptible to hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland), diabetes, and kidney disease—all of which can cause sudden weight loss. If you notice sudden changes in your pet’s weight or appetite, you should consult your veterinarian.
Some behavior changes in older pets may be signs of cognitive dysfunction (similar to senility in people), including: increased vocalizations, loss of house training, unusually aggressive behavior, anxiety, increased wandering, irritability, or changes in sleep patterns. Again, talk with your veterinarian if you see any of these in your pet.
With proper care and regular veterinary examinations, your pet can provide you with years of unconditional love.