Your Graying Pet: How to Provide the Best Care to Your Older Companion

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Companion animals are living longer than ever, thanks to improvements in veterinary technology and healthier diets. With more resources available to them, owners are more educated about pet care as well. Even so, caring for an aging pet can be challenging. Grantsburg Animal Hospital and Wild River Veterinary Clinic recommend bi-annual preventive care starting at age seven.
 
The common belief that pets age seven years for every one human year isn’t entirely correct. Dogs and cats actually age the fastest during their first year of life. A one-year-old pet is equivalent to a 20-year-old human. After the first birthday, the rate is approximately four years for every human year. Because of their rapid aging, it isn’t always easy to detect new health issues in your pet. Bringing her in for a bi-annual preventive care exam allows Dr. Palmquist to diagnose common age-related problems early.
 
Decline of Mental Functioning in Older Pets
One in three companion animals over age 10 has decreased mental functioning. By the time a pet reaches the geriatric stage at age 15, this goes up to 50 percent. While you can’t see what your pet thinks and remembers, you are likely to notice changes in behavior. Your dog who has been housebroken for years starts eliminating indoors or your usually docile cat becomes more aggressive. Because this can be confusing and upsetting for pet owners, they tend to react by punishing the dog or cat.

Your pet doesn’t understand why you’re punishing him and may react by avoiding you. This damages your bond. If you notice a marked change in his behavior, we encourage you to schedule a senior wellness exam as soon as possible.

Common Health Problems in Older Dogs and Cats
Some health conditions are especially common in older pets, regardless of breed. Some of the most prevalent issues for older companion animals include: 

  • Arthritis: Stiff joints, especially in the hips, can make it difficult for your pet to get around the house. 
  • Cancer: It may seem like more animals you know have cancer, but this is largely due to pets living longer lives. The incidence of all types of cancer increases in dogs and cats over age 10. 
  • Diabetes: This often goes hand in hand with obesity and can be managed well with some lifestyle changes. 
  • Dental disease: This is a widespread problem among pets of all ages, but it becomes especially problematic for older pets. Many already struggle with lack of appetite and may give up on eating when it becomes painful or difficult. 
  • Heart disease: Cardiomyopathy, which is degeneration of the heart muscles, is particularly common in the senior pet population.
 
A high percentage of older cats have kidney disease while senior dogs struggle most with vision and hearing problems. Preventive care for your senior pet is essential to maintain quality of life. If your pet over age seven has gone more than half a year without a check-up, please contact us to schedule an appointment. 

Photo Credit: Adam88xx / Getty Images

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