Melissa Chapman @MelissaC83

Help Your Senior Pet Live His Golden Years in Style

You and your furbaby have enjoyed ten glorious years together.  You've watched her grow from a frisky little pup learning to potty train to learning to sit on command after snagging more than a handful of treats. Sure you've had your moments like when she ran away and you spent three hours combing your neighborhood only to find her patiently waiting at your doorstep. She's been a constant companion in your life and the one who dutifully sat by your side when you were laid up in bed with the flu. But lately, she seems to be slowing down and napping for increasingly longer periods of time.

Of course at 10 years old, with each dog year being equal to about seven human years, your furbaby is the ripe old age of 70 and you want to make sure she lives out the remaining time she has left in the most joyous way. Dr. Ernie Ward, author of Chow Hounds: Why Our Dogs Are Getting Fatter - A Vet's Plan to Save Their Lives (2010 HCI) and owner, chief-of-staff at Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, North Carolina, recommends that pet parents be mindful of a host of potential  health issues their senior pet's caretaker.

"While we may still view our eight-year old Lab as our "puppy" the reality is she is undergoing many of the same physical changes of a 50-year old person," says Dr. Ward."Simple changes in nutrition and lifestyle can make a huge difference in preventing age-related diseases and preserving quality of life." 

The definition of a senior pet

Historically, any pet over age seven is considered a senior pet, says Dr. Ward. In strict physiological terms, giant breed dogs over age five should be considered senior and toy breeds and cats over age nine are viewed as senior pets. The differences in ages are due to the rate of physiological changes in certain breeds; giant breeds age faster.

Senior pets need specialized diets

As dogs and cats age so do their nutrient requirements and ability to digest certain foods, notes Dr. Ward.  If your pet is over seven years old, it's important to talk to your veterinarian about switching to a diet specially-formulated for older pets.

"Senior pets need less fat and carbohydrates and more highly digestible proteins," says Dr. Ward. "For example, older cats actually require higher amounts of protein because studies show their ability to digest proteins deteriorates as they age. In general, older pets need fewer calories because they're less active and begin to lose muscle mass."

Diet and supplements

Dr. Ward recommends that pet parents give their senior pet low or no-grain, higher protein diets for older cats and highly digestible, low-fat diets for dogs. And since nutritional gaps and cellular damage can accelerate as pets  age due to genetics, pollutants and illness, Dr. Ward advises giving nutritional supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils), glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate, and a good multi-vitamin (especially B vitamins and vitamins A, D, E, and K, biotin and beta-carotene) to almost every older pet. He also prescribes SAM-e, silybin/milk thistle, superoxide dismutase (SOD) and probiotics to many senior pets to combat age changes.

Preventative medical care: What you need to know

Start testing at seven years old. Changes in kidney, liver and pancreatic function, arthritis, cataracts, heart disease and high blood pressure are more common in older pets. To diagnose a disease in the early stages requires consistent examinations and lab tests. As soon as your pet turns seven, pet parents should ask for basic blood and urine tests, even if their pet appears perfectly healthy. The value of routine testing is that it establishes baselines for future reference.

"I recently saw a nine-year old cat for a routine visit," says Dr. Ward. "The owner reported her cat was in excellent health yet our test results showed an increase in two kidney enzymes from the previous year. While the kidney values were still within normal limits, the change alerted me to a potential problem. Additional tests confirmed early kidney disease. If not for the previous test results, we would've never diagnosed kidney disease at this early stage. "

Bottom line: The money you spend on routine diagnostic tests may save you big bucks in the future and add years of life to your pet. Never ignore that tiny voice telling you "something isn't right." If you suspect something - anything - is wrong with a pet over age 7, have it checked out.


Oldest comments are listed first

  • Caring for senior pets does require more TLC but for all of the love & happiness they have given to us it seems a small price to pay. While maybe they aren't as fast or quite as playful as they once where, you know them and they know you. Best friends, super snugglers, I cherish the mature pet.

  • I really enjoy caring for the senior pet. Dogs give you unconditional love throughout their lives and it's nice to return the favor. They still need to get out and be physically and mentally stimulated. I'm also a certified canine massage therapist and it's amazing to see them find their inner puppy!

  • Wanted to share with everyone... Figuring out how old your dog is relative to human age isn't as simple as people think. A number of factors come into play. Wikipedia has an article on aging in dogs that discusses the subject. The first factor is a dog's size and/or breed. For instance, a Bulldog's life expectancy is estimated to be around 7 years, and Great Dane lives to be 8.5 years on average. Compare that to a Miniature Poodle who's average lifespan is close to 15 years. So the breed makes an enormous difference in the number of years a dog will live. Because we are comparing dog years to human years, we also have to consider the average life expectancy of humans. For instance, if we assume a certain breed of dog lives 10 years on average, and put that into the calculator, the result should be the maximum lifespan of a human. But human life expectancy varies, based on things like infant mortality, country, access to health care, gender, etc. Average lifespan worldwide is around 66 years. In developed countries, it is 80 years, and that is what the calculator above assumes. For the first two years, a dog year is equal to 10.5 human years. After that, each dog year equals 4 human years. This calculation is based on studies that indicate dogs, except maybe larger breeds, develop more quickly in the first two years of life. Hope this helps, Colleen TLCpetz & Home Care

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