If your pets were human, how old would they be?

Senior Care

What does it mean to be geriatric and how will I know when my animal has reached that point?

The chart on the right provides an approximate idea of the ages of our dogs and cats compared to humans, but just as with people, certain individuals can seem to "age" more quickly or slowly than others. This has to do with their genetic inheritance and also environmental influences such as diet, exercise and general health.

Just as with people, animals go through particular recognized life stages from birth through maturity. The senior years begin to appear in approximately the last quarter of the expected life-span and an animal is considered "geriatric" when they have reached their general life-expectancy and just keep on going! Though we veterinarians tend to think of 7 or 8 years as the time to start talking about "senior issues", small breed dogs and cats may not be considered "senior" until 10 years of age where giant breeds such as Great Danes may reach this after only 5 years.

Obviously these life stages can be hard to pinpoint so we look for indicators that our animals may be having more difficulties or "slowing down" in their daily activities. Recognizing these signs early and acting with preventative supplements even before they appear can greatly improve the quality of life of our animal companions as they age.

What are some potential problems that can occur as my animal ages?

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Organ decline and failure (kidney or liver disease for example)
  • Cancer
  • Endocrine diseases (diabetes, hypo- or hyper- thyyroidism, pancreatitis, other more rare conditions)
  • Cognitive dysfunction (senility)

What signs should I look for?

  • Decreased activitynot jumping up as much, slow to rise- though often they are still ok once they get moving
  • Weight changesloss or gain
  • Decreased musculatureespecially noticeable in limbs if asymmetrical
  • Behavioral changes
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in water intakeoften increased
  • Vomiting or stool changes
  • Changes in skin or coatlumps, thinning coat, for catsdecreased self-grooming, unkempt coat, clumping and mats

What can be done to support my older animal?

  • Regular veterinary visits are important to recognize and treat any problems that may be causing pain or discomfort for your animal. For seniors and geriatric animals, 6 month check-ups are a good idea as health changes can occur more rapidly. Changes in weight and appearance can go unnoticed by the family, but may be more easily recognized during a veterinary examination. Use this time to discuss any subtle changes that may be occurring in your animal's mobility, behavior or other concerns.
  • Diagnostics such as blood and urine testing, radiographs or other testing may be needed to help determine the cause of these changes. Baseline and periodic testing help to identify health problems early.
  • Proper diet for individual needs and healthy weight maintenance—excessive weight can be very hard on arthritic joints! (for more on dietary options click here)
  • Prevention and support through dietary supplementsfish oil / EFAs (essential fatty acids), glucosamine/chondroitin, antioxidants (for more on specific supplements click here)
  • Herbal medicinesupport general organ function, eliminate toxins by improving liver and kidney function, circulatory support/stimulation especially for cognitive and musculoskeletal/joint problems, adrenal/stress support, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits and more.
  • Other medications as needed for individual conditions, including pain medications for arthritis—there are many options available and combinations that make pain control safer and more effective for dogs and for cats.
  • Physical supportRegular walks/ activity"motion is lotion" for the joints and it maintains muscle strength. Massageloosens tight muscles and improves circulation, also quite relaxing.
  • Environmental supportnon-slip rugs on slick floors, keeping toenails trimmed for easier walking, safe steps and ramps, warm well-padded beds, accessible food and water

Simple changes in your home and care routine can be very beneficial to your elderly animal, reducing anxiety, pain and discomfort while improving their quality of life, helping them to enjoy their later years as much as they enjoyed the younger more active years.