Dr David Gething
Ageing and the Mature Pet
Like all of us, cats and dogs get old. And like with humans, ageing is not a bad thing, it's a natural process. Advances in veterinary medicine, nutrition, lifestyle and care have greatly increased the lifespan and quality of life for older pets, and there is much we as pet owners can do to make sure our companions are healthy and happy into their senior years.
One question people often have is how to determine the "human age" of a pet. This is nearly impossible to answer correctly – some dog breeds such as Great Danes are considered mature by the time they are 6 years old, but some smaller dog breeds and most cats are not considered aged until they're at least 15. The old rule of thumb is that one pet year is equivalent to seven people years, but this isn't really correct as animals mature to adults within their first year of life. A more accurate equation for dogs and cats is 10 pet years for each of the first two human years, then 4 pet years per human year after his. Of course this isn't perfect either, but it is a good guide.
A pet age calculator can be found here.
Three of the most important medical issues in older animals are kidney health (especially for cats), weight management and arthritis.
The senses also tend to decline as animals age, and most dogs and cats have some degree of hearing and vision loss by the time they are 12 years old. Pets are generally very good at compensating for any reduction in their senses, and often owners don't even realise their pet is hard of hearing or sight.
Mental health is also an important consideration in older animals. Many animals do get a little more confused and forgetful as they get older, similar to people.
And all of these changes are normal and acceptable, and are part of getting old. We can't turn back the clock, but there are certainly a couple of avenues open to help animals as they get older.
Firstly, older dogs and cats should eat a diet that is designed for their age. A healthy and appropriate diet is one of the cornerstones in a healthy and long life. Mature pet diets are usually lower in protein to protect the kidneys, and reduced calorie, to prevent weight gain as an older animal tends to exercise less. They also have a different vitamin and mineral profile that is more appropriate for an older animal.
There are a number of good diets, a couple of our favourites are Royal Canin Mature and Hills Science Diet Mature. Be sure to ask your vet or pet shop for an appropriate food for your older pet.
Anti-oxidants such as Omega 3's are also really important, and will help scavenge the free radicals that are partly responsible for ageing. Omega 3 supplements are completely natural and safe, and contain no drugs. These can be found naturally in oily fish such as salmon or in supplements that you can add to your pet's food.
Lastly, I'd suggest a vitamin and mineral supplement designed for mature pets, preferably also containing glucosamine to help the joints. These can significantly help maintain organ function and reduce arthritis as a pet ages. This is particularly important in large breed dogs who often experience difficulties with their hips as they grow older.