Animals undergo many of the same aging changes as humans, including kidney disease, arthritis and changes in vision and hearing. Most pet owners are astute when it comes to their pets’ habits, and subtle changes in appetite, social interaction, sleep patterns or potty habits can all be indicators of age-related changes. If you see these changes, talk with your veterinarian. He or she may want to test your pet’s blood or urine to check for underlying medical problems. Some age-related changes can be well managed with diet and medication if identified early.
A troubling, preventable trend that we see in dogs and cats is obesity. The complications of obesity become more obvious in older animals. For example, obesity worsens arthritis and is a predisposing factor in the development of diabetes. Arthritis results in pain and decreased mobility—and ultimately a lesser quality of life. If owners want to extend the quality of their pets’ lives, the most important action they can take is to ensure that their pets stay lean.
Q: When is a dog or cat considered old or getting old? Is there any truth to the notion that a “dog year” is equivalent to seven years for people?
Some of you may remember Baby, the Duluth cat that lived to be 36 years old. Baby passed away in 2008 as one of the oldest cats on record. While Baby lived an especially long life, it’s not uncommon to see cats living into their late teens and early 20s. The American Association of Feline Practitioners categorizes cats as seniors from the ages of 11 to 14 (roughly 60 to 72 in human years). It considers cats over 15 as geriatric (the equivalent of over 76 for humans).
The concept of a dog year equaling seven years for people is a generalization. It’s fairly well accepted that small dogs tend to have a longer life expectancy than giant-breed dogs. The 2013 Banfield State of Pet Health Study, which tracks 2.2 million dogs nationwide, shows that toy- and small-breed dogs have a 41 percent longer life expectancy than giant-breed dogs. On average, toy-breed dogs live 11.3 years while giant-breed dogs live only 8 years.
Q: The life expectancy of humans is increasing. Are we seeing the same with dogs and cats?
Yes, and local pet owners are doing something especially right. The life expectancy of dogs and cats in our region exceeds the national average. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, the average cat lives 12.5 years, while the average dog lives 11.2 years. According to the 2013 State of Pet Health Study, the average life expectancy of cats is up one year since 2002, and the average life expectancy of dogs has increased by nearly half a year since 2012.