Geriatric Care for Your Older Pet
by Ben J. Character, DVM
Due to advances in human and veterinary medicine, our pets are living longer and healthier lives. Because of this, we have learned that our older pets have special needs.
There are several things to consider in the care of your older pet. A common consideration is a change in the diet. Older pets are less active than their younger counterparts. They are also experiencing reduced function of major organ systems. With these body changes, they require less protein and energy than the younger pet. Most name brand dog foods offer a “geriatric” style food, designed specifically for the special needs of older pets.
Because of the fact that organ function decreases with time, it is advisable for older pets to have routine bloodwork as they enter old age. This point will differ with each pet, but a general guideline can be established. For small dogs (dogs weighing less than 25 lbs.), the average life span should be around 15-17 years. These dogs would be considered geriatric at about 10-11 years old. Large dogs (dogs weighing in at 50 lbs. or greater) have a life span of 10-12 years. For these dogs, geriatric years begin at 8-9 years old. Most cats have a life span similar to a small dog, and would be considered geriatric when they have reached 10-12 years old.
Unfortunately, with age also comes the risk of neoplasm (more commonly known as cancer). Due to longer-living pets, we have made great strides in the possibilities for treatment of some types of cancer. If you think your pet may have a problem, you should make an appointment as soon as possible for a veterinarian to exam it and discover the root cause.