Getting older is not the same thing as sick, but it can be affiliated with a whole host of conditions. All creatures, including cats and dogs, attain “geriatric” status when 75% of their life span has elapsed. This means that old age for cats and small to medium-sized dogs is achieved somewhere around the 8th or 9th birthday. Large-breed dogs typically have a shorter life expectancy, so they are considered “senior” between 6 and 7 years of age. Yes, you read that correctly – a Great Dane is considered geriatric at only 6-years-old! Besides biological age, the breed, genetic background, the quality of diet, and the overall quality of environment throughout his or her life contributes to the aging process.
You’ve probably heard the adage “every year is equivalent to 7 years in dog-years.” Because of the expedited aging process, it’s especially important that our senior friends see their veterinarian more frequently for check-ups than younger pets do—typically every 6 months. Additionally, because pets are very adept at hiding their signs of illness, annual blood work to access organ function is recommended in hopes of catching chronic diseases, such as liver or kidney failure, early.
The moment you start noticing subtle changes in your pet’s behavior, you should see a veterinarian. Sadly, people often notice the signs too late–which means more expensive treatment and a worse prognosis. If you notice symptoms such as changes in urination or drinking patterns, breathing problems (coughing or nonstop panting), eating issues (ie: vomiting, decreased appetite, weight loss), or a change in energy level, have your pet checked-out.
Aging doesn’t just happen– it occurs throughout our pets short lives. It’s easy to see that the more wholesome our pet’s lives are from youth to senior, the healthier they will be even in their golden years. But, alas, we all get older. And as our furry friends move into that geriatric age range, treat them well by treating underlying illness to preserve their quality of life as long as possible.
Tonya Sparks, DVM
Check out this article for some Senior Pet Tips: https://www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/Caring-for-an-Older-Pet-FAQs.aspx