My 7-year-old pet is now a senior?!

Your dog is considered “senior” around seven to nine years old, depending on the breed. Now that he’s a senior, it's important to watch out for certain age-related conditions so that you can help improve his quality of life.

“Your seven-year-old retriever is about 50 years old in human years, and your 10-year-old cat is now about 56 years old,” says Dr. Nicky Meade, Animal Care Hospital of Morris. “This is when we have to pay more attention to their diets, their level of exercise and getting baseline bloodwork. If caught early, a lot of medical conditions can be managed or avoided.“
Four things to watch for in your senior pet:

1) Behavior Changes
Senior dogs and cats may sleep more, have less energy, and are often more laid-back. Usually, these are all part of growing older but behavior changes should be mentioned during his next visit to the vet. Some dogs sleep a lot because they’re experiencing joint pain or muscle soreness, or even hiding a heart condition.

“We recommend senior dogs see their vet every year,” says Matt Johnson, CVT, Hospital Manager, Animal Care Hospital. “A lot can change in a short period of time. A senior dog seeing the vet once every year is like us going to the doctor every couple years.”

2) Weight Issues
Not sure if your pooch is overweight? A quick way to check is to count his ribs! If you can’t easily feel his ribs, it could mean he’s overweight.

“Most of the time we find dogs are getting too much food and not the right kind of food,” says Dr. Nicky. “At age seven, it’s time most dogs start on a senior diet.”

Senior dog foods have less calories, better meet a senior dog’s nutritional needs, and are easier to digest. Many health-related issues can be easily managed with diet changes. Extra weight will increase the risk of arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions.

“We encourage dog owners to track their pets weight loss through weekly “happy” visits to our office, where we weigh them and give them a healthy treat.” Says Dr. Nicky.

3) Oral Care
If your dog has bad breath or you notice a loss of appetite, tooth decay, and oral pain may be the culprit. Tooth decay and infected gums are common problems found when examining the mouths of older patients.

“Almost half of the senior dogs and cats we see at our clinic need teeth cleaning,” says Matt Johnson, CVT. “Tooth decay and gum disease can lead to all kinds of problems like infections, weight loss, oral pain, early tooth loss, and eventually lead to kidney or heart disease and in more severe cases other health problems.” Dr. Nicky mentions, “We also encourage owners to give their dogs daily dental treatments that help keep their mouths healthy.”

4) Joint Problems
You might notice your dog is moving slower, favoring one side or even limping. As joints deteriorate or arthritis sets in, dogs are less mobile, especially in the morning or after periods of exercise, like a long walk. Making adjustments to their routine like shorter, more frequent walks may help your dog. As a dog ages, he might seem less interested in chasing their favorite toy or jumping up onto their favorite perch. Arthritis might also cause a dog to be irritated when you pet him. “Sometimes I recommend supplements,” says Dr. Nicky. “Or anti-inflammatories. They can help make your pet much more comfortable and make a big difference in their quality of life.”

One of the best things you can do for your senior dog is to take him for regular wellness checks every year. Watch for any behavior changes and let our vets know so they can catch illnesses early and improve their quality of life.

Cindy Pervola, Lifetime dog owner, Business consultant, and writer.