Caring for a Senior Pet
Aging Matters

Family caregivers can identify with the emotional and financial stress of helping older parents. But when it comes to taking care of a beloved pet, it can seem just as emotionally challenging. Many people wouldn't trade the opportunity to give the loving care that both require. As a result, your pet may become your best friend while caring for it.

An older pet has different care requirements than those of a younger one. And knowing when a pet enters the senior stage will help adjust the care you give it. It depends on the pet, but generally, the very large breed dogs age faster than smaller breeds. A Great Dane enters the senior stage by 5-6 years old, while a Chihuahua is middle-aged, and becomes a senior at 11 years. A Labrador would be a senior at 8-10 years. But know that genetics, nutrition, environment; all play a big part in how fast the animal ages.

As your dog ages, it could develop arthritis or other degenerative diseases that hinder mobility. Your pet may not walk as far or play as long, and it may tire quickly. As the body ages, the pet may have difficulty getting up or getting into a comfortable position.

There is no precise age that a feline becomes a senior. Each cat ages at different rates, depending on their body. But a good way to classify their age is, mature or middle-aged, between 7-10 years, a senior at 11-14 years, and geriatric at 15+.

As your cat ages, it shows signs of limited mobility, so monitoring its weight is important. If it becomes obese, it has greater risks for arthritis and diabetes. If the cat is too skinny, it could be a sign of thyroid issues. Watch for erratic sleeping patterns and cognitive behavior. If a cat is not aware of its surroundings, it could be Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Pay attention to the condition of the coat, and the time spent on grooming. That can be indicative of its health.

But when the beloved pet becomes "off," it could be a sign of a mild sickness or a serious illness. Animals will disguise any signs of ill-health because it is a natural instinct used for protection in the wild. If an animal shows weakness, its kind will avoid it, and worse, attacked by predators.

Watch carefully for subtle variation in the animal's appearance and behavior. Either could be a sign of illness. Pay close attention to the following:

Loss of appetite and energy, hiding, vomiting or diarrhea, blood in the urine or stool, bloating, straining to urinate or defecate, bald patches, extreme scratching or licking of the body, foul odor from the mouth, ears or skin, tumors, discharge from the eyes, limping, seizures, difficulty getting up, and whining.

Here are the signs that indicate the need for an immediate veterinary attention, failure to urinate, a bloated hard abdomen, excessive vomiting or diarrhea, seizures, and the inability to stand up. Other less severe signs of illness should be checked by a veterinarian within 24 to 48 hours.

Carol Marak, aging alone advocate, columnist, speaker and editor at A former family caregiver, She earned a Fundamentals of Gerontology Certificate from the USC Davis School of Gerontology and writes about personal concerns while growing older.

Part of the Aging Matters Weekly Syndicated Column

Aging Matters is a weekly column tackling everyday challenges that our growing elderly population and their loved ones face. It is also published in a variety of syndication partners including newspapers all over the country.

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