With leaves falling from the trees, the days getting shorter and the weather changing, one can’t help but think about changes that we and our pets go through. Just as with humans, dealing with a dog’s and cat’s aging process calls for some adjustments in lifestyle.
However, with good planning, care, and nutrition, there’s no reason why your dog’s and cat’s autumn years shouldn’t be golden.
People want to know what to expect as their pets grow older. In many years of practicing veterinary medicine, I’ve noticed a number of frequently asked questions keep popping up about how to care for aging dogs and cats.
At what age does a cat or a dog become a “senior”?
For cats, “senior” starts at seven years of age. For dogs, breed and size play some part in determining when his senior years begin. Most breeds are seniors at seven, but some of the bigger breeds (90 pounds or heavier) become seniors as soon as age five.
What kinds of changes can I expect to see in my senior dog or cat?
Changes begin before you even see them. Internal metabolism starts to shift before any changes are externally noticeable. This is why it is important to change your pet’s diet to a specially formulated senior food once he or she reaches senior status.
Generally, expect some slowing down as your dog or cat ages. When you get home from work, he or she may only run half the length of the driveway to meet you, then stop and walk. With less activity, appetite will decrease. Also, he or she will begin to sleep more hours per day.
Many of these are natural changes – just part of the agiing process. However, it is wise to keep track of your dog or cat’s behavior and activity level, and to maintain regular checkups (once or even twice a year) at your veterinarian.
Sometimes, what seems like a regular sign of old age, such as less or slower running, can actually be a sign of a treatable disorder, such as arthritis or heart disease.
But, what makes a good diet for an aging dog or cat?
Feeding a high-quality, premium diet throughout your pet’s life is the best way to help him or age gracefully. For dogs or cats in an advanced stage in life, feed a food to make sure the animal gets high quality proteins, lower fat and special fibers, as well as antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. I work with Iams, so when a dog reaches the golden years, I recommend Iams Active Maturity™ Formula.
While there is no true “fountain of youth” for pets, research conducted by the Iams Company shows we can actually help restore the activity of vital cells in our pets’ immune system with premium nutrition and care.
What about “Senior” cats who are prone to hairballs?
A dietary formula that helps minimize their formation can help many cats who experience them, or are at risk for developing them. Iams Active Maturity™ Hairball Care uses a special dietary fiber in order to help move hair through the digestive tract, thereby decreasing the risk of hairball formation. But the formula doesn’t just focus on hairball formation. It also provides the balanced nutrition that is necessary for older cats’ healthy skin and shiny coat.
How can I create a more comfortable environment for my senior dog or cat?
When designing a home for a senior pet, consider that as they age their joints become less flexible. This makes climbing stairs a harder and less desirable task. Be sure to provide a good bedding on a ground floor so your pet has a secure spot for the night.
As for the daytime, many dogs and cats love to lie in the sun. When it’s sunny out but your dog wants to stay in, keep the windows open and the bedding in a well-lit area. I know one owner who moves her miniature pinscher’s bedding several times over the course of the day, just because the dog prefers the sunniest spot!
By Daniel P. Carvey, DVM Iams Company