Did you know that over 50% of dog and cat owners in the United States have a pet age 7 or older? Unfortunately, no one has yet found the fountain of youth to keep their pet young forever but rest assured there are ways to address the changes that accompany the aging process. The first step to helping your older dog or cat is to recognize that certain behaviors and/or mental health characteristics have changed. There are several common signs of aging that can easily be remembered by the acronym “TAILS”. These signs are not specific to general aging and can sometimes indicate an underlying health issue. If your dog or cat has any of these signs, it is important to contact your veterinarian and have your pet examined.
Have you seen the “TELL TAILS”?
TAILS stands for thinking, activity, interactions, loss of control, and sleep-wake cycle. These categories represent the most common changes that can indicate your furry friend is experiencing some age-related changes.
Your pet is now confused by ordinary things, like how to find their bed
Naps have become more appealing than playing or exploring
Your pet doesn’t socialize with you as much as before
Your pet is well-trained, but has started having accidents
Sleeping patterns have changed, with more awake time during the night
You may notice that certain behaviors that used to come naturally to your pet have become more difficult. Specifically, you may notice your dog or cat:
- Gets lost in familiar locations such as your home or a favorite dog park
- Can’t figure out how to navigate through doors
- Gets stuck in corners
- Can’t figure out how to navigate around obstacles like your couch, a coffee table, or even a person
- Doesn’t seem to recognize familiar people or pets
- Doesn’t perform tasks that were previously familiar to him or her
Is your pet normally very active and playful? Are they typically content relaxing on the couch or lying in a warm patch of sun? It is important to think about what was normal for your furry friend so that you can recognize changes in their activity level. You might see that your pet is:
- Less interested in exploring their environment
- Staring or fixating on objects or people
- Excessively licking objects or people
- Sleeping more or less during the day
- Pacing or wandering around the house
Your bond with your pet is very special and much of that bond depends on how you interact with one another. If your pet's cognitive function is declining, you may notice certain changes in how they interact with you including (but not limited to):
- No longer greeting you when you have been gone
- Less interest in spending time with you
- More interest in spending time with you or “clingy” behavior
- Signs of separation anxiety
Loss of control
One of the first and most important routines you established with your pet was likely their elimination routine. This is something that usually remains very constant throughout a dog or cat's life unless there are medical or cognitive changes. Your pet may suddenly be:
- Urinating or defecating in the house outside of a litter box
- Urinating or defecating in their crate or sleeping area
- Going outdoors to urinate or defecate then having accidents when they comes back inside
- Less likely to signal that they have to urinate or defecate then having accidents
Your pet likely sleeps when you sleep and wakes up with you in the morning. As your pet ages, you may notice changes in their sleep habits that could indicate cognitive dysfunction. You may notice that your dog or cat is:
- Awake more at night
- Restless/sleeping fitfully
- Sleeping more during the day
How can you help your dog or cat?
If you notice any of the “TELL TAILS” signs of aging in your pet, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. It is important to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may cause some of the same age-related signs before arriving at any conclusion.
Studies have shown that environmental enrichment and sensory stimulation positively affect cognitive function and may play a role in preserving cognitive abilities as your pet ages. Even if your dog or cat has slowed down a bit as they've aged, continue to take them for walks or encourage exercise (appropriate for their physical abilities) regularly. Provide them with plenty of toys. Food puzzles can stimulate your pet's brain and provide a treat for performing tasks. Despite the old saying, you can teach old dogs new tricks — cats too. Consider training your dog or cat to perform new tricks or tasks to keep their brain working hard.
The right nutrition
Research shows that nutrition affects how your pet’s cells function. The aging process is complex and involves specific changes to the cells. The right nutrition can help protect cells and protect against signs of aging. Help keep your 7+ dog or cat stay in the game with Hill’s® Science Diet® Youthful Vitality. This breakthrough nutrition is formulated with ingredients to help support your pet's ongoing vitality through increased activity, interaction and mobility.
Getting older doesn’t have to slow your pet down. If you recognize any of the “TELL TAILS” signs of aging in your dog or cat, consult with your veterinarian to determine the best action plan including nutrition.