It is now possible to talk about geriatrics for companion animals. If you think back, you will realise how pet care has developed: only thirty years ago, cats were not expected to live more than six years. Their life expectancy nowadays is frequently double that figure.
In dogs, maximum life expectancy is about 27 years, although most dogs live to be between thirteen and fifteen years old. The fact that owners now prefer smaller animals, easier to manage and with longer life spans, has had something to do with this.
It is thanks to the dedication of owners and to the efforts of professionals that we are now able to enjoy our good friends longer. But time marches on and the aging process brings about special needs in older animals. This is why you should be alert after they cross an imaginary line drawn at seven years of age.
This does not mean that after this age they are “venerable animals”, with white hair and difficulties walking. Of course not! Dogs or cats over seven years old have needs that are different from those of puppies or kittens, or of younger adults. When an animal grows old, its body’s capacity to regulate its usual functions and defend itself from external aggressions is progressively altered.
Humans have, among others, a special obsession: remaining young. Aesthetic clinics, diets, gyms... they use any and every method to resist change brought about by age, even if it is only on the outside. And this very human desire is passed on to our pets. But a veterinary surgeon does not possess a magic wand, he cannot avoid what is unavoidable. What he can do is accompany your pet during the natural process of aging, and try to avoid certain illnesses that inevitably appear more frequently with age.
There are three basic pillars in the health management of senior pets: prevention, nutrition and hygiene. The aim of preventive medicine is the early detection of diseases at the moment in their development when they are more easily cured. To get there in time it is necessary for owners to provide their pets with a yearly checkup when they are over seven years old. This includes a general physical examination, blood, urine and faeces tests, chest x-ray, electrocardiogram and dental examination. These tests should be performed once a year.
Nutrition is another one of those basic pillars: a senior animal has very specific nutritional needs and, because of this, should be fed products specifically designed for its age. For example, its diet should contain less salt, more fibre and higher quality proteins. These variations ensure optimal nutrition and a longer life expectancy.
As for hygiene, brushing and bathing are not enough. It is very important to brush pets’ coats regularly and bathe them with products designed for veterinary use. It is also important to provide walks and exercise in keeping with the pet’s age, as well as sunlight and fresh air. It seems that, as they grow older, they are taken out less. If you encourage this mistake, your pet will develop weight or joint problems earlier.
If you follow these simple guidelines, visit the veterinarian once a year and correspond to the dedication and love that your pet gives you without expecting anything in return, your companion animal will enjoy the best, happiest and healthiest years of its life.
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