Keep a close eye on pets in their senior years |

Keep a close eye on pets in their senior years


SUMMIT COUNTY – Gray hair, creaky bones, failing eyesight – all the signs and symptoms of aging – creep up on pets just as they do on humans, only faster.

A pet’s advancing age can weaken the immune system and increase vulnerability to many medical problems, including arthritis, diabetes, dental problems, allergies, cancer and loss of hearing and vision, according to the American Humane Association.

Your pet ages about seven times faster than you do, but there are steps you can take to help it grow old gracefully.

First, know when your pet is entering its senior years. Cats are considered to be seniors at 8-10 years old, while a dog’s aging process is partly weight-dependent.

Very small dogs may not become “old” until the age of 9 or 10; medium-sized dogs hit old age between 6 and 9 years; large dogs (over 80 pounds) may earn senior citizen status as early as 4 years old.

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“Dogs are considered geriatric if they’re over 6 or 7, but 7 or 8 for a St. Bernard is pretty old,” said Christy Murphy of Breckenridge Animal Clinic. “With labs, were talking about 12-15 for a natural lifetime. Little poodles can live a long time. It’s not unusual to see them 18 or 19 years old.”

As dogs and cats enter their senior years, they may slow down.

Cats may have difficulty going up or down stairs or reaching their favorite perches.

Dogs may exhibit subtle changes in how they get up, lay down or use stairs. Some such changes are natural, but it is important not to ignore problems that might need treatment.

“Look for a persistent limp, especially in one limb. Animals can get arthritis, which we can treat them for, but it can be something really wrong in there, like bone cancer,” Murphy said.

Most age-related health concerns can be treated or controlled. The key is to catch problems early.

Regular, annual visits to the vet are critical in disease detection and effective treatment. Some vets even recommend biannual visits for older animals.

“You want to have annual exams minimally, and biannual if it’s warranted.” Murphy said. “With my older dog, I do blood work every four to six months. If it’s a really healthy animal, annual visits are OK, but, for a 13-year-old dog, a year is a long time.”

Geriatric examinations of dogs and cats include a thorough physical evaluation of the teeth, heart and lungs, abdomen, eyes, ears and weight. Your vet may also recommend blood work, urine tests and fecal examination.

Careful attention to your pet’s body and behavior at home is also very important. Cats, in particular, are very good at concealing health problems.

Things to watch for include changes in water or food consumption, changes in urination patterns, poor appetite, weight loss or gain, vomiting, diarrhea, hard or ulcerated lumps and lethargy. Such problems always warrant a prompt visit to the vet.

“Water consumption is very important,” Murphy said. “Things like liver failure and kidney failure can result in increased water consumption. At high altitude, dogs drink more just like people do, but abnormally increased water consumption can be just as much of a red flag as decreased water consumption.”

Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998 x203 or

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