When does a pet get “old” ? If you own a dog, you’ve probably heard this old rule of thumb: “1 year for Fido equals 7 years for you.” Turns out, the math isn’t that simple. Dogs mature more quickly than we do early on, so the first couple years of your furry friend’s life is equal to about 15 human years. Size and breed also play a role. Smaller dogs tend to live longer than larger ones, but they may mature more quickly in the first few years of life. A huge pup might age more slowly at first, but be nearing middle age at 5. Tiny and toy breeds don’t become “seniors” until around age 7-9. Medium-sized pooches are somewhere in the middle on both counts. In general, we recommend seeing your veterinarian twice a year for checkups starting around the age of 7.
Here’s a helpful chart:


While it’s easy to spot the outward signs of aging such as graying haircoat and slower pace, it’s important to remember a pet’s organ systems are also changing. An older pet is more likely to develop diseases such as heart, kidney and liver disease, cancer or arthritis.

Regular veterinary examinations can detect problems in older pets before they become advanced or life-threatening, and improve the chances of a longer and healthier life for your pet. We recommend a wellness check every six months for senior pets.
Weight Management:

  • We often see our senior pets slowing down as they become older. It’s important to keep them at a healthy weight despite their lessened activity.
  • If your older pet is less active, he will need fewer calories. Try feeding fresh vegetables (frozen green beans are often a big hit) as treats, and limiting portion sizes at mealtime.
  • Obesity puts a great deal of stress on your pet’s joints. Dogs with joint problems may benefit from supplementation with glucosamine or fish oils.
  • Obesity in older pets also increases the risk of difficulty breathing, insulin resistance or diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, skin problems, cancer, and other conditions.

Arthritis

  • Older dogs and cats may develop arthritis or other joint problems, which can make it harder for them to get around.
  • You can help by providing ramps to help them navigate around the house, get up on the bed, or get outside. Make sure litter boxes are more easily accessible for cats.
  • Orthopedic pet beds, with or without heating elements, may help keep your pet comfortable and relieve pressure on the joints.
  • Hydrotherapy and therapeutic massage are also effective therapies for dogs with joint pain.
  • Cold Laser Therapy , Water Treadmill, and Acupuncture can bring much needed relief to pets with arthritis.
  • Medications may be prescribed to help your pet with pain management. Regular bloodwork while on long-term medication is highly recommended and often required by most veterinarians.

Dental Hygiene

  • Dental care is just as important for pets as it is for us. Dental disease is painful and may make it difficult for your senior pet to eat. Ideally, you should start brushing your pet’s teeth early, but if you haven’t, don’t despair; you can still take action. The first step is a veterinary exam and professional dental cleaning. Then, schedule regular follow-ups and brush daily at home. If your pet won’t tolerate you brushing its teeth, consider dental treats, dental diets or dental toys designed to help keep the teeth clean and healthy.
  • As a senior your dog should still be getting regular walks throughout the week, but keep them short and try not to overdo it if your pet is experiencing any kind of condition.
  • Swimming is another excellent activity to help exercise the muscles without hurting joints. Be sure to use a life jacket with your senior pet.

Grooming

  • Make sure your senior dog is properly groomed. Keeping nails trimmed is important to keep their comfort level while walking. Long nails are not only painful, but can hinder grip on flat surfaces or get caught in carpet. Dr Buzby’s toe grips can be a helpful tool for traction on slick surfaces.

Physical Contact

  • As your pet ages, physical contact is more important than ever. Therapeutic massage is great for animals with joint pain, and equally enjoyable for those without. Pets that have a difficult time grooming themselves may benefit from extra brushing. Every moment you have together is precious, and increasing the physical connection between you will strengthen your bond immeasurably. Maximize every opportunity for bonding with your pet – you will both be glad you did.

Mental Simulation

  • Yes, you can teach an old dog (or cat) new tricks !
  • In fact, it’s a great way to keep them young at heart. Try enrolling in a basic training or tricks class with your senior pet. You can also give them “puzzle toys,” which require them to actively figure out the puzzle in order to get the food treat inside. Keep plenty of toys handy, and engage them in lots of interactive play to keep their minds and bodies working.

Cognitive Changes in Aging Pets

Many of us know the physical signs – graying of the fur, hearing loss, poor vision, and arthritis. But what about the cognitive changes? Yes, our pets experience cognitive changes as they age as well. Just like humans, dogs can suffer from many of the same symptoms:

  • Sleep-wake cycle disturbances
  • Generalized anxiety
  • Lower threshold for aggression
  • Decreased activity levels
  • Inappropriate vocalization (howling, barking or whining)
  • Repetitive behaviors (pacing)
  • Elimination disorders
  • Staring at walls
  • Fewer social interactions
  • Disorientation (getting “lost” in the house or in the yard)

Here are some tips to help with managing cognitive changes in our senior pets:

  • Recognize Symptoms Early
    • The early signs of canine cognitive dysfunction can be subtle and difficult to detect. They can even be misinterpreted as “just getting old.” However, early recognition and intervention are helpful. Owners should be on the lookout for mild versions of the symptoms listed above.
  • Pay Attention to Changes in Hearing and Vision
    • Hearing and vision loss can cause anxiety for some pets. When they lose these sensory faculties, they can become disoriented far more easily. Simple things, like failing to hear an owner’s call, can make daily life challenging for aging pets and their owners. The good news is, many pets with hearing deficits can be trained to recognize hand signals, and pets with limited vision can often learn their way around, as long as furniture and other objects remain in the same place. Aging pets can startle easily when sleeping; if you must wake them, they often respond better to the vibrations of clapping your hands versus touching or shaking them.
    • Although there’s not much we can do about hearing loss in most cases, we have options for treating some diseases of the aging eye.
  • Stick to a Strict Schedule
    • Adhering to a set schedule when it comes to feeding, walking, turning lights on and off, and bedtime can be excellent therapy for confused pets. It’s orienting.
  • Manage Anxiety
    • Most dementia dogs display some degree of stress, especially when lost in the corner of a room or if they find themselves awake and alone in the middle of the night. Managing anxiety requires owners to know what works best for their individual dog, such as soothing music, aromatherapy, or a long walk before bed.
    • Crate training early on in life is highly recommended. When a dog is in their “safe space”, it can help curtail stress-exacerbating nighttime wanderings. Although, in some cases, it could cause further stress to the animal.
  • Anxiety Medication and Dementia-Specific Drugs
    • Sometimes medication can help with anxiety associated with cognitive changes. For severe cases of canine dementia, veterinarians will sometimes discuss the potential benefits of dementia-specific medication that seem to reverse some of these symptoms, albeit to a minor extent for most patients.
  • Supplements
    • Omega 3s
      • Omega 3s are “good fats” that have anti-inflammatory properties, can reduce cholesterol and prevent blood clots. Krill Oil and Flaxseed Oil are both excellent sources.
      • Golden paste (turmeric)
        • Turmeric not only has amazing health benefits for us, but it does for our dogs as well, including helping with the symptoms of dementia.
        • Find a recipe for Golden Paste here
        • An important thing to be aware of is the high calorie content in coconut oil, and large amounts can cause diarrhea, pancreatitis and gastrointestinal problems. It’s often best to start with a very small amount and as always, consult your veterinarian to be sure this is an appropriate supplement for your particular dog.
    • Melatonin
      • Melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone secreted by the pineal gland at the base of the brain, is used for dogs with anxiety, suffering from epilepsy, and to help restore the sleep/wake pattern which is often disrupted in dogs with dementia. Please consult your veterinarian for dosage instructions.
    • Bach Flower Remedies
      • Rescue Remedy is the one most commonly used for helping deal with anxiety in pets.
    • Fruits and vegetables
      • Antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties found in certain fruits and vegetables may decrease the risk of cognitive decline – these include spinach, blueberries, raspberries, carrots, etc. Again, consult your veterinarian to ensure these are appropriate additions to your particular pet’s diet.
    • Bioacoustically designed classical music
      • Through A Dog’s Ear Calming music was created by a psychoacoustic expert and veterinary neurologist, studies have shown it reduced anxiety behavior and induced calmness in 70% of dogs in shelters or kennels, and 85% of dogs in households. We use this music in our clinic for dogs being kenneled during the day for medical observation or surgery. Also available for cats 🙂
    • What about Essential Oils?
      • There’s a lot of hype about essential oils these days; and while they can be beneficial, quality and education is of utmost importance! Most “essential oils” purchased at common shopping centers or online are not actually therapeutic. They are solely fragrance, made up of chemicals. Not only do they have no therapeutic value, but they can actually be fatal to your pets! Cats are especially sensitive to essential oils and we generally advised against use of essential oils with cats. If you would like to know more about essential oils, we recommend visiting AnimalEO ‘s site. These oils are created by veterinarian Dr. Melissa Shelton.
    • Look Into a Veterinary Behaviorist
      • The most comprehensive approach to canine cognitive dysfunction involves the assistance of a veterinary behaviorist. These specialists can often help owners dramatically re-orient their confused and stressed-out geriatric pets.