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Caring for pets in their golden years

Published: March 29, 2010

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Thanks to better pet nutrition and advancements in veterinary medicine, pets are living longer than ever before. It is not uncommon to see some dogs living up to 17 years and cats living into their 20s. Some larger breed dogs are considered geriatric by the age of six or seven, while other small breed dogs will enter geriatric years by age 10 or 12.  Most cats begin their geriatric years by the age of nine or 10.

As your pet ages, you may need to change your routine in caring for him, including adjusting your pet’s diet and physical routine. Pay close attention to any changes in your pet’s behavior that may signal the onset of disease, such as diabetes, cancer, or kidney and liver disease, which are common in older pets. Signs to look for, include change in appetite, drinking, elimination habits, activity level and attitude.

It remains important to exercise your pet as she gets older, but some slowing down is to be expected. As your pet’s physical activity declines, adjust the type and amount of food and treats you are providing to prevent wright gain, which can cause achy, painful joints. Your family veterinarian can provide you with appropriate recommendations on what and how much to feed your pet.

Don’t scrimp on grooming as your faithful companion grows older! Frequent grooming helps your pet avoid developing certain skin conditions. Also, keep your dog’s or cat’s nails short so walking is comfortable — especially if your pet has arthritis. Frequent grooming also gives you the chance to become very familiar with your pet’s overall physical condition, so that you can spot any changes early on. Non-painful lumps can be a sign of lymphoma, a common cancer of cats and the most-often diagnosed cancer in dogs.

Take your aging pet to your family veterinarian at least once a year — but some senior pets benefit from twice-a-year visits. Early detection is always more effective when trying to treat a disease. If your senior pet begins to vomit, have diarrhea or cough, contact your family veterinarian as soon as possible.

With the right amount of love, vet care and good nutrition, our pets can live long, comfortable lives.