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November 20, 2020 – It’s no secret that advances in pet health care have increased longevity in our cat and dog friends.

Improving the quality of life for our aged pets is just as important as improving quantity. As pet owners, there are many things we can do to help keep our pets healthy and vital in their golden years.

Defining old age in dogs and cats

Cats and dogs reach different life stages at different times and it’s important for owners to know how these life-stages are defined since recommendations for care revolve around a pet’s life stage.

The currently accepted guidelines are:

  • Dogs with an (ideal) adult body weight greater than 50 pounds are considered senior when they are 6 to 8 years of age and geriatric when they’re over 9 years of age.
  • Dogs with an (ideal) adult body weight less than 50 pounds are senior at 7 to 10 years of age and geriatric when they’re over 11 years of age.
  • Cats are considered senior at 11 to 14 years of age and geriatric when they’re over 15 years of age.

The concept of healthy aging

Aging is a normal process and not a disease, but a lack of knowledge about the aging process may make us think otherwise. The good news is that this view is changing rapidly.

Veterinarians are working together with aging experts to learn more about the normal changes that occur as the body ages in our pets as a first step toward finding ways to maximize good health.

Experts in pet healthy aging have adopted the goals promoted in healthy human aging, which include three areas of focus:

  • Maintaining mental health
  • Maintaining social and physical well-being
  • Maintaining function

In people, these focus areas are assessed in a variety of ways, from subjective cognition tests to objective measurements such as routine lab work. Dog and cat aging experts have used these areas as well when designing programs for older pet patients.

What can owners do?

As we learn more about healthy aging in dogs and cats, there are steps owners can take today to help their aging pets stay healthy. These include:

  • Step up the frequency of veterinary visits. For dogs, this means increasing to twice-yearly visits starting when a dog is in the last 25% of their predicted lifespan. For example, a dog that has a predicted lifespan of 10 years should start twice yearly visits when they’re roughly 7 years of age. In cats, the recommendation is twice yearly visits when a cat reaches 10 to 11 years of age.
  • Older animals need mental stimulation to help ward off cognitive decline, including playtime. Short periods of play several times a day for both dogs and cats can help keep their brains healthy.
  • Using food puzzles is another way to keep dogs and cats mentally fit. Food puzzles are gaining in popularity; check online and in stores that carry pet supplies.
  • Watch the calorie intake. Unfortunately, older cats and dogs are prone to weight gain as they age. This is due to a combination of factors including lower metabolic rates, decreased activity and disease. Studies suggest being overweight or obese decreases life expectancy in dogs and cats. Keeping your pet trim is important as they reach middle age and beyond.
  • Check your pet monthly for any new lumps, bumps or areas of tenderness. These can be benign or signs of something serious going on. Early detection is always best.

Work with your veterinarian to determine the best exercise and diet plan for your pet. Your family veterinarian also can help discuss what supplements or medications might improve your cat’s or dog’s quality of life as they age.

How Morris Animal Foundation is helping pets live longer and healthier lives

We’ve funded studies looking at everything from diet to supplements for aging pets, to pain management. Our Golden Retriever Lifetime Study is generating data that will allow researchers an unprecedented view on how dogs age.

But we still have a lot to learn and we need your help. Make a gift today to help keep dogs wagging, rolling and frolicking for years to come.