Spunky pups and curious kittens draw the attention of people eager to welcome new pets into their families. As pets begin to age, owners of senior animals may find that they struggle with their pets' emergent needs in this stage of life.
Senior pets may experience dementia, mood changes, inactivity, pain, and incontinence. But thanks to improved veterinary care and dietary habits, pets can live longer than ever — and remain comfortable well into their senior years.
Cats and dogs are generally considered geriatric at the age of seven, offers the American Veterinary Medical Foundation. Even so, many pets go on to live 12 to 15 years, which can be the equivalent of age 75 to 85 in humans. Geriatric pets are susceptible to the same conditions seen in older people, including cancer, diabetes, weakness, senility, joint or bone diseases, and heart disease. It is essential to keep an open dialogue with a veterinarian to discuss any potential health issues aging pets may encounter.
According to veterinary behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, coauthor of "Good Old Dog: Expert Advice for Keeping Your Aging Dog Healthy, Happy and Comfortable," pet owners must realize that older pets are less able to thermoregulate, so they're more sensitive to extreme temperature changes. Pets may need blankets or sweaters. They also may need to spend more time indoors when the weather is harsh.
Dietary changes may need to be made. Older pets may eat less, but they should be fed high-quality, nutritious foods that help keep their weight in check. Excess weight can put added stress on sensitive joints and may contribute to problems with diabetes.
Veterinary Pet Insurance, a division of Nationwide Insurance Company, says there are new, alternative treatments available for aging pets, often used to treat pain, pet arthritis and cancer. Cold laser treatment directs light to stimulate cells and increase blood circulation to ease aches and pains. Medical acupuncture can help reduce pain and inflammation. Radiosurgery can target cancerous tissue with a very high dose of targeted radiation while avoiding doses to surrounding tissue. In addition, monoclonal antibodies can be attached to cancer cells to boost natural immunity to cancer and germs.
Older pets require different care and more patience. Owners of aging pets should speak with their veterinarians about caring for pets as they grow older.