Senior Pets (General High-level Overview)

By December 16, 2019Blog

“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.”

– Agnes Sligh Turnbull

“Sometimes our lives are touched by gentle friends who only stay awhile.”

– Unknown

“The memories and paw print of a beloved cat remain in our heart and soul forever.”

– Unknown

Even though our canine companions and feline friends are living longer, the above quotes still ring true.

Perhaps you’ve heard the expression – or formula – that for every passing calendar year for humans, your pet ages seven years. This formula suggests all dogs and cats who reach the age of 7 are the “human equivalent” of 49-years of age.

Well, it turns out this 1:7 ratio/formula not very accurate or helpful.

With ever-growing and improving data sets, we now know pets age at different rates based on a variety of factors including species, weight/size, breed, and individual history.

Species

Dogs and cats do not age at the same rate and each species has its own way of expressing disease or illness.

Weight/Size

The data generally indicate that dogs classified as large and giant breeds have shorter lifespans (thus, perhaps show signs of aging at a faster rate) when compared to smaller breeds. However, this is not across-the-board. For example:

*With an average weight of around 15 lbs, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are averaging a lifespan of around 11 years, but Schipperkes, in the same weight range, tend to enjoy an average lifespan of around 14 years. A notable difference when comparing two dogs of a similar weight and size.

At the other end of the spectrum, some data are indicating that Alaskan Malamutes (even those in the 85 lb range) are enjoying lifespans of around 13 years, which is significantly longer than most other large breeds in the same weight/size range – and often longer than several of the smaller breeds (such as the Cavaliers, classified as a Toy Breed, noted above).

*Please note: We see widely varying data across several different publications (AKC data can vary compared to other sources). This is not carved in stone.

Breed

Although the exact reasons remain elusive, some dog breeds have significantly shorter lifespans than others in similar weight/size ranges.

Here are a few of the most short-lived, yet well-loved, breeds with relatively short life expectancies based on the available data:

  • Bulldogs = 7-year average life expectancy.
  • Chinese Shar-Pei = 9-year average life expectancy.
  • French Bulldogs (Frenchies) = 10-year average life expectancy.
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels = 11-year average life expectancy.
  • Basenji = 11-year average life expectancy.

Today’s DNA tests can help provide valuable, sometimes critical, insights into breed-specific issues (predispositions) and also help inform veterinarians how to best prevent or treat those breed-specific issues.

Breed-specific predispositions can affect average lifespans, and more importantly, quality of life.

Knowing your cute “Cocker Mix” puppy adopted from a rescue operation has a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel as a parent or grandparent can help us make much better healthcare decisions moving forward.

In an actual case, we stopped the use of widely prescribed and generally safe medication for a “Cocker Mix” after DNA results showed this little pup was actually a Collie Mix. This particular medication can be dangerous when administered only to certain breeds – including Collies.

Individual History

Your pets’ own history of illness or injury plays a significant role in each individual pet’s life expectancy and quality of life – cats or dogs – large or small – pure or mixed breeds.

Your Pet’s Senior Years

It may be helpful to consider this as the next stage of life following your pet’s adult stage of life.

To help you determine approximately when pets reach their senior years, here is the new “Human Age Equivalent Chart” which takes both species and weight into consideration.


Download as PDF

Please note the above chart assumes a healthy weight. Obesity tends to complicate everything and can decrease both life expectancy and quality of life.

Now that you know the approximate age your pet reaches their senior years, you may be wondering why it matters or why senior pets need a little extra T.L.C.(tender loving care).

We have heard countless positive reports from pet parents who tell us about improvement in physical activity level, cognitive issues, behavior/personality, and appetite after we’ve uncovered, and properly treated an underlying issue.

They also mention that they wish they had known sooner because they did not realize how much their pets were actually suffering until they showed signs of improved quality of life after treatment.

Here are the most frequently asked questions about senior pet care:

Why does my senior pet need to see the vet at least twice per year?

Because your pets are experts at hiding their symptoms of disease and pain.

And veterinarians are experts at finding these hidden issues.

Just as with aging or senior adults, when pets reach and progress through their senior and geriatric stages of life, there is an associated increase in the likelihood of illness or disease.

Unlike people, your pets can’t verbally tell you about any of the changes they may be feeling. Such as:

  • Feeling out of breath after minimal exercise.
  • Feeling the need to urinate more frequently or feeling pain with urination.
  • Feeling stiffness in their hips or knees.
  • Feeling confused, anxious, or fearful about things that previously did not elicit these feelings.

It all starts with a physical evaluation. What may look like a gentle dog massage, is actually an important part of the evaluation called palpation. Depending on the findings during the physical evaluation, your veterinarian may also recommend diagnostic testing.

Why does my pet need these tests?

Because these tests provide critical insight and also establish your pet’s baseline values.

As pets age, their organ functions may start to decline. We can catch this early through diagnostic testing showing your pet’s values compared to the norm (oftentimes a range), and also compared to your pet’s previous test results – your own pet’s baseline.

Thus, the first step is establishing a baseline.

And the sooner the better.

Especially, if your pet is already classified as a senior pet.

Diagnostic tests may include the following:

Blood Tests

The CBC (Complete Blood Cell Count) – The CBC checks for the health of your pet’s blood cells. Abnormalities in CBC test results can alert us to issues such as an underlying infection, anemia, and more.

Additional chemistry panels check the health of your pet’s internal organs such as their liver, kidneys, pancreas, etc. There is a wide variety of chemistry panels, all of which check for different organ functions, etc. The veterinarians here at CoastView Veterinary know which panels are most appropriate for each one of your pets – including your senior pets.

Urinalysis

A complete urinalysis can provide important information about the health of your pet’s kidneys, bladder, and urinary tract.

Chest X-Rays

This is the best way to monitor changes regarding your pet’s heart. Is it enlarging or showing other issues visible on radiographs (x-rays)? When caught early, you give your pet the best chance of reversing or minimizing heart-related issues that could affect the longevity and quality of your pet’s life.

Blood Pressure

Here at CoastView, we recommend checking blood pressure, at the very least to establish a baseline in order to track changes (higher or lower) as your pet ages.

What are baselines for my pet?

When we talk about establishing baselines, our goal is to obtain data representing the normal, healthy, or beginning level of measurable values with which we can then use for future comparisons. Baselines also help us measure your pet’s response to medication or other treatments.

Baseline values obtained while your pet is healthy give us a way to better measure, monitor and address subtle changes before they become serious.

What are some of the signs of pain pets may exhibit?

  • Limping
  • Hunching their back
  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Panting
  • Drooling
  • Persistent licking – particularly the front paws
  • Sudden biting at themselves – particularly the hindquarters
  • Constipation – because it hurts to ‘posture’ in order to defecate
  • Inappropriate elimination – as pets may associate pain with the litter box or potty area in the yard
  • Decreased appetite

What are some of the signs or symptoms of cognitive decline senior pets may exhibit?

  • Pacing or restlessness
  • Panting
  • Drooling
  • Anxiety or agitation
  • Increased vocalization
  • Decreased vocalization
  • Persistent licking – especially when focused on one particular area of their body
  • Persistent licking of the floor, rugs, furniture, or you
  • Acting more ‘needy’ or ‘clingy’
  • Inappropriate elimination or house soiling
  • Confusion or forgetfulness
  • Decreased appetite

There’s also a handy acronym to help us better narrow-down or rule-out other possible underlying medical conditions as our pets age. The acronym is DISHA. Here are two excellent educational videos that go into a little more detail about DISHA.

What are some steps I can take now to help my pet enjoy a better quality of life in the future?

After reading the above, you now know that illness, pain, anxiety, cognitive decline, etc., share several commonalities regarding how pets may ‘express’ their symptoms or clinical signs. This is why it is important to work with a qualified veterinarian to first evaluate the current state of your pet’s health, establish baselines, and determine accurate diagnoses.

Next, you and your veterinarian can talk through the appropriate steps or treatment plans to help your pet maintain or improve their quality of life – right now and for the duration of their life with you.

Are there any generally safe products or services that may help improve the overall quality of life for my aging pet?

Here is a link to a blog article written by a CoastView staff member.

Read More

However, this does NOT constitute or replace the advice from a licensed veterinarian. Your pet may have an underlying illness or breed-specific predispositions that could be exacerbated by seemingly safe supplements or nutraceuticals. Please always first check with your pet’s licensed veterinarian before experimenting with any of the items on the list.

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