According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, cats and dogs are generally considered “senior” at seven years old. However, animals age at different speeds depending on their size – smaller dogs tend to live longer than larger dogs, who are considered “senior” between ages five and six.
As pets age, they begin to develop health problems that impact their quality of life. With careful observation, it is easy to recognize these subtle changes in behavior and begin treatment early when the condition is easier to manage. Older animals can lose their ability to see and hear and are more likely to develop cancer, arthritis, and kidney, heart, and liver disease. Changes in behavior, like avoiding playing, struggling to get up in the morning, or grouchiness when you pet them, may be signs of developing arthritis and are more common in overweight animals. Additionally, just as people can become senile as they age, animals can develop similar characteristics and may appear to be confused or “lost” in their own homes. Their behavior may change due to discomfort or changes in hearing and sight.
Aging is an unavoidable part of life but it doesn’t mean that older animals have nothing left to offer. There are so many stories about older rescue animals providing emotional support for elderly people in nursing homes, people suffering from depression or anxiety, and people experiencing the loss of a close family member. The link below is a story submitted to Chicken Soup for the Soul and describes the story of an older dog that protects his owner when she has epileptic episodes.
Older animals have so much life to live and love to give and thanks to advances in medical care, they are able to live long, happy, healthy lives. Age alone should not determine whether an animal should be euthanized – even after age-related diseases arise, your pet has many happy years left to spend being a part of your family.