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Caring For Your Aging Pet

Aging is a fact of life for people and pets alike. However, with advances in medicine and increased awareness of the vital importance of preventive care and nutrition, pets as well as their owners are enjoying longer, healthier lives than ever before. Because owners are demanding the same high quality of health care for their pets, family pet life spans have doubled, and in some cases tripled. By learning some simple guidelines for accommodating life style changes, as well as what changes to expect in your pet, regarding diseases that are common with the aging process, the senior years can be stress free and rewarding for both of you.

Keeping your senior pet healthy and happy

The onset of symptoms of the aging process will depend on the pet; for some it may be a very gradual process, for others it may seem to happen overnight. In the case of dogs, aging is breed-dependent. The general rule is that dogs begin the geriatric stage at about 7 years of age, although smaller breeds tend to develop signs of aging later than larger breeds. Kitty aging becomes evident between 7- 10 years, on average.

Beside the issue of disease in your aging pet, there are other considerations such as –
Decreased mobility: Regular, appropriate exercise is essential to delay the onset of stiff, painful joints. Arthritis is a common aging pet issue. If your home has floor surfaces that are slick, such as tile or hardwood, your pet may find it difficult to maneuver on such surfaces, and in many cases, may refuse to walk in that portion of the home entirely. Covering the surface with an area rug will usually take care of the problem, and give your pet the feeling of freedom in his/her home. If you decide that your pet must have your assistance to perform certain maneuvers, such a navigating the stairs, consider installing a pet gate so that he/she will not be tempted to give it a try without you, and become injured in the process.

Leg and joint stiffness may make walking and standing painful for your animal, and potty problems could arise. Older pets will need to go outside to relieve themselves much more frequently than when they were younger. For cats, it may be helpful to have several small, low to the floor, litter boxes in different locations throughout the house. Be sure that your pet is able to make more frequent visits outdoors. However, If you find that your pet is having “accidents”, portable dog potties are available that can be used indoors. These “doggie potties” use special mats that look like a grassy outdoor surface, and are easily removed for cleaning.

If your pet is accustomed to having the freedom to hop up onto the bed or sofa, or leaping into the family car for an outing, the use of pet stairs, ladders, or ramps will limit stress impact to aging joints and will insure your beloved pet the continuation of life as usual without having to be lifted by you. This is especially important with a large dog, where lifting could cause injury to the pet or the owner. Heated and therapeutic foam bedding can also bring significant comfort to the aching joints of a senior pet.

Grooming: Regular grooming is especially important as your pet ages. Skin and coat tends to become very dry, and regular brushing will improve this condition. Regular grooming will also help you with early detection of any abnormalities or tumors that may be developing.

Dietary changes: Obesity in older pets is the number one health care issue, and can lead to serious diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. A less active senior pet will require fewer calories than in the younger years. There are many special senior diet foods on the market. It is best to consult with your veterinarian to find the optimal diet for your senior pet, which may include the addition of dietary supplements.

Your older pet should have a thorough exam by your veterinarian at least once a year, and in some cases twice yearly is recommended. Performing special tests and procedures will enable your vet to identify age-related problems.

diseases associated with aging: Understanding symptoms, and early detection

Obesity- As mentioned above, this is the number one health issue facing older pets, and also the most preventable. As your pet ages, the amount of activity decreases and often diets are not adjusted to accommodate the changes in lifestyle. A general rule is that if you can’t feel your pet’s ribs then he or she is likely overweight.

Bone and joint problems: Degenerative joint disease (arthritis). Your pet my have frequent falls, may appear to be in pain when standing or lying down, experience fitful sleep patterns, as well a degeneration of the leg muscles.

Eyes: Cataracts can appear on the eye as a bluish-grey covering on the lens, and can be the result of the normal aging process as well as diseases such as diabetes, and high blood pressure. Severe cases can lead to blindness.

Teeth: A majority of pets will experience some form of dental disease as they age. Symptoms include bad breath, excessive tartar, inflamed gums, difficulty eating, and discoloration on teeth. A regular cleaning schedule is strongly recommended.

Diabetes: As in humans, there are two types of diabetes. Type 1 must be treated with insulin injections. Type 2, may or may not require injections. Early symptoms include frequent and excessive urination, increased appetite and thirst, lethargy, increased weight loss, general loss of muscle strength.

Cushing’s Disease: This is an endocrine disorder usually caused by the over-production of cortisone, and is more common in certain breeds of dogs, such as beagles and Boston terriers. Common symptoms include decreased activity level, personality changes such as anxiety attacks, whining, lack of interaction, memory problems, disorientation and confusion.

Kidney- as the organs age they can become damaged or lose their ability to filter out toxins from the blood. A few of the early symptoms of kidney failure are excessive drinking and urination, vomiting, weight loss and lethargy.

Cancer – A frequent problem in older pets, but can be treated effectively with early detection. Most common symptoms are lumps, sudden unexplained loss of weight, lethargy, abdominal swelling.

Of course the most important thing in helping your pet “grow old gracefully” is your continued love and attention. Your aging pet is the same pet that you grew to love and cherish as a “sapling” years ago, and has become a beloved member of the family. The fact that he/she has made it to old age means that you have shared many of life’s moments with each other. Continue to share as many activities together as possible — play with your pet, spend quality time together. Your loving presence during the senior years is a gift of gratitude for the lifetime of unconditional love and devotion given you by your beloved pet.

Useful links:

www.redcollarsociety.org - aging pet support group
www.srdogs.com - preparing for the loss of your pet
both of the sites offer senior dogs for adoption.