If you have ever had an older pet, you know how the years fly by. In hindsight, those young, energetic days are gone in a blink. Before you know it, Fido and Fluffy are seniors. Typically in dogs and cats, this occurs at age 7 or 8. Very large breed dogs age even faster.

These pets are part of your family, and the bond you have with them is strong. You speak to each other with your eyes. You know what the other wants with barely a word. It can be painful to watch them decline as they age. Helping your pet live a longer, healthier, happier life with you is everybody’s wish.

Since pets reach their golden years by age 7 or 8, they can actually live most of their life as a senior. It is not unusual for cats to live into their late teens. Some even reach twenty or more. The lifespan of dog breeds is more variable because of differences in physical characteristics such as size. In general, smaller dogs live longer.

What happens at age 7 or 8 to make pets become seniors? At this age, the risk for many illnesses increases. Fido and Fluffy may appear fine, but disease processes that are affect their bodies may begin. If left untreated, these illnesses progress. To catch problems early and help your pet feel healthy, the best time to intervene is before Fido or Fluffy begin to act sick.

Mouth pain is very common in older pets. Fractured teeth, abscessed roots and periodontal disease are some of the painful conditions that older pets experience. Most pets will continue to eat despite significant oral discomfort. Your veterinarian can help your pet’s mouth feel better. If you have concerns about anesthesia, discuss this with your veterinarian. General anesthesia in pets is very safe when proper protocols are followed.

Senior pets suffer from arthritis, too. If your pet is stiff or his gait is off, he is hurting. A lot can be done to help Fido or Fluffy feel better. Many arthritis treatments work better if started early in the disease process.

Painful joints and painful teeth may cause older pets to groom less. It just hurts too much. The result is an unkempt or matted coat.

Kidney disease is a frequent but silent intruder. Pet owners often overlook signs until the disease is quite progressed. Contact your veterinarian if your Fido or Fluffy has changes in drinking or urinating habits, as these are often the first signs of kidney disease. Early detection can dramatically affect the course of this disease.

Endocrine abnormalities, such as thyroid disease, are also common in aging pets. Since thyroid hormone affects virtually every organ in the body, detecting an imbalance early is very important.

Even diabetes is not uncommon in pets. Many of these patients need insulin injections much like people do.

Senior pets are also prone to tummy aches. Mild changes in food may result in vomiting or diarrhea. Alternatively, some pets develop constipation issues. Your veterinarian may recommend diet changes and supplements to help.

Heart disease and cancer can be frightening but often manageable illnesses. In many of these cases, the key is early detection and treatment.

Many senior pets have decreased vision and hearing. These pets need extra protection so that they don’t injure themselves. They may be unaware of an obstacle or may fall down stairs, especially at dusk or in dim light.

Behavioral changes may be noticed in pets as they age. Fido and Fluffy may vocalize, use the bathroom indoors, sleep more or be less interactive with you. These could all be signs of not feeling well, but sometimes they are due to cognitive dysfunction, or senility.

What can you do to help your senior pet?

  • Regular check-ups can detect problems early. Even simple lab tests provide a wealth of information to peek inside Fido or Fluffy.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s food. Many older pets have special dietary needs and would benefit if these were addressed.
  • Pay particular attention to dental disease. Owners often report that addressing oral pain makes their pet act years younger.
  • Senior pets are more prone to temperature extremes. Be sure to limit time outside on very hot or cold days.
  • If Fido has difficulty getting around, shorter walks might be more enjoyable. If he is unsteady on his feet, or has trouble rising, a sturdy harness would help you support him.

When that special birthday arrives, remember the best gift of all. What your furry family member wants more than anything else is time with you.