Ageing is inevitable, but that doesn't mean your pet shouldn't be in the best of shape for his or her age. As improvements are made in veterinary care our pets are living longer, approximately a third of all dogs and cats visiting a veterinary practice are in the senior life stage. As pets grow older, like humans, they can display a range of mild or moderate signs of old age. The advancements in veterinary care means that age-related conditions can be treated and a good quality of life maintained.
Typical ageing signs
- A reluctance to exercise
- Stiffness of limbs
- A reduced appetite
- Weight gain
- Poor skin/coat quality
- Urinary incontinence
- Altered sleeping patterns
- Less adaptable to change
Although the process of ageing cannot be stopped, it can be slowed down. There are a number of things you can do to delay or reduce the effect on your pet.
Diet and Nutrition
The lifestyle of older pets means their dietary requirements will change. They have a reduced activity level and an average 20% decrease in their metabolic rate. This means they are more likely to gain weight. An overweight pet is more likely to suffer from diseases such as heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and bronchitis
Older pets may be increasingly prone to stiffness. Your dog may experience problems getting up in the morning, act sluggishly when the lead is produced, be generally lethargic or be less enthusiastic to play. It is important not to stop exercising your dog. Short regular walks will help keep muscles and joints supple. Cats will often hide the fact that they are slowing down but you may notice that they hunt less or spend more time resting.
The main sign of urinary incontinence is the leakage of urine at inappropriate times and places. Sometimes urine dribbling may only occur when a dog is excited or barking. One form of urinary incontinence often seen in spayed older bitches is Sphincter Mechanism Incompetence, or SMI. Treatments are available that improve the muscle tone of the urethral sphincter and helps prevent leaking.
Heart and Circulation
- Heart problems are common in 9 out of 10 elderly dogs.
- Early signs of heart failure can include:
- Early fatigue - at exercise is an early symptom, which might be confused with other diseases of old age.
- A cough - often occurring after a period of rest or exertion.
- Weight loss - common in long-lasting [chronic) forms of heart failure.
A distended abdomen with fluid (ascites)
Just like people, dogs and cats depend on blood circulation to carry nutrients and oxygen around the body. An adequate blood and oxygen supply is essential for the correct functioning of all the vital organs. A poor blood supply to the brain can result in changes in behaviour, senility and even fainting episodes.
By 8 years of age, 95% of pets are affected by some form of dental disease. This can cause pain and swelling in the mouth, resulting in your pet having difficulty in eating. They may also paw at their mouth and dribble when trying to eat. Observe how your pet eats and if you see any problems have their teeth checked.
Worming and Flea Treatment
Preventive treatment for worms and fleas should be practised throughout a pet's life. You should aim to worm your pet around four times a year, as regular treatment is the best approach to adopt to keep worm burden to a minimum and prevent contamination of the living environment. Flea treatments should also be used regularly and there are a wide range of products available. Remember, you don't have to see the worms for them to be there.
It is important to keep your pet fully vaccinated throughout its life. As it ages, natural resistance to disease becomes weaker, which makes it even more important to give a regular booster. If you feel that your pet could have an existing age-related problem which you would like to discuss or you would like advice on how to delay the onset of such conditions, please feel free to make an appointment with a nurse or alternatively make an appointment to see a vet. The advancements in veterinary care means that age-related conditions can be treated and a good quality of life maintained.