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As Your Pet Ages

Monday, August 01, 2016

Diane Scavelli, Veterinary Student
Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences


The average age of our pets is increasing. Between one-third and one-half of pet dogs and cats are living to age 7 or older. With aging we will see physiologic changes such as hair whitening, declines in body and coat condition, and a loss of hearing and/or vision. Other less obvious, but common, age-related changes are alterations in the digestive tract, immune system, or kidneys. The timing of when your dog or cat may begin to slow down may vary in correlation with breed, size, genetics, nutrition, and environment.

Change in behavior is just one of the many potential occurrences with older pets. Behavioral problems occurring in aging pets can usually be due to reaching a behavioral threshold, primary behavior problems, or new medical conditions. Any disease can result in altered behavior. For example, painful or uncomfortable conditions can lead to increased moodiness or anxiety over being handled. Primary behavior problems may often develop from changes in a petís environment or the presence of new pets in the home. In geriatric pets with multiple medical conditions their behavioral tolerance threshold may decrease and they may become more sensitive to stimulation.

Geriatric pets can often develop similar health problems as are seen in aging people. These include, but are not limited to, cancer, heart disease, kidney /urinary tract disease, liver disease, diabetes and joint or bone disease. Age-related medical conditions can often be managed with nutrition. Nutritional requirements can change with age, and some diseases may develop as a result of an unchanged diet. Examples of diet-sensitive conditions with aging dogs and cats are chronic renal disease, diabetes mellitus, and arthritis. One dietary change in aging pets is a decrease in the energy nutrient requirements. When the energy needs lessen, but calories are not reduced, the pet will become overweight. Therefore, diets designed for geriatric pets will have smaller amounts of fat and calories. An increase in dietary fiber is one route commercial pet food producers will take to decrease calories.

Arthritis and diabetes are common conditions that develop in older, overweight pets. Although obesity is the most common nutrition-related problem in pet dogs and cats, geriatric dogs and cats are more commonly underweight. Underweight body condition is especially prominent in geriatric cats that have decreased digestive capabilities. Underweight pets should usually be provided energy-dense and highly digestible meals. Calorie intake can also affect the amount of protein in a diet. Protein requirements will vary for each dog or cat depending on breed, lifestyle, medical conditions, and metabolism. Since older pets usually take in fewer calories they require a diet with a higher protein to calorie ratio in order to maintain their protein requirement.

It is important to have regular checkups with your primary veterinarian as your pet ages.

The material in this article was referenced from Veterinary Clinics of North America, Small Animal Practice: Geriatrics and AVMA.org.


This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for the professional advice of your veterinarian.

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