Originally created 04/02/02

Age old question



Q: How can I help my pet enjoy his golden years?

A: Because pets are our companions and our friends, we want to take care of them into their golden years as well.

Pets reach "old age" at different times, according to breed and size. Small dogs (less than 20 pounds) typically reach their senior years between 9 and 13 years of age. Medium dogs (21-50 pounds) reach their senior years between 9-12 years of age. Large dogs (51-90 pounds) reach their senior years between 7-10 years of age. Giant dogs (90+ pounds) reach their golden years between 6-9 years of age. Cats are typically considered to be seniors when they reach 8-10 years of age.

According to Vet on the Web's Tim Mainland, as dogs and cats grow older, their organs may become less efficient and they may be less able to resist infections and other diseases.

Regular exercise will help promote good joint health as well as overall strength. Regular exercise also can help control your pet's weight. Try to give your pet 20-30 minutes of exercise each day. Chasing toys and playing ball qualify for physical exercise. When you go for a walk, take your pet along on a leash.

There are several reasons why a special diet may be needed in an elderly pet. He or she may be less active than a younger animal, and therefore may need fewer calories. According to Dr. Mainland, phosphorus and protein content may need to be decreased if your pet has kidney problems. Special dog food formulated to meet the nutritional needs of senior pets also can help keep weight at the recommended level.

Avoid feeding table scraps to your aging pet. Scraps often can lead to intestinal problems and weight gain. Excess weight can place undue stress on joints and can aggravate pet arthritis.

Elderly pets sometimes have poor appetites and may need to be tempted to eat. Dr. Mainland recommends that you feed a little bit to your pet on a frequent basis, dividing the daily food allowance into two to four small meals. Warm the food to just below body temperature. Leave the food down for about 10-15 minutes and then remove it. Last, make sure your pet has a quiet, undisturbed place to eat its meals.

Monitor your pet for any changes in appetite, weight loss/gain, behavior changes, sleeping changes or signs of disease such as vomiting, bleeding, or sores. If any of these appear, take your pet to the veterinarian for a checkup.

Senior pets should visit their veterinarian twice a year for a physical examination.

There are ways you can help your aging pet be as comfortable as possible. Raising your pet's dishes up off the floor to chin level can help with aging-pet digestion. Add extra bedding to help ease aching joints. Regular brushing can help you monitor hair loss, skin sores, and changes in your pet's overall physical condition.

If you have a question or would like more information, please write to Shirley McIntosh, University Hospital Seniors Club, 2803 Wrightsboro Road, Suite 51, Augusta, GA 30909.