< Back to blog

Is my animal old? …

what to watch out for!

3 December 2021

Aging, unfortunately, no one escapes it, not even our animals. Aging is scary for us but also for your Ti-Loup. We see him lose his physical and intellectual capacities, his hair becomes more and more gray and his eyes become more bluish. Yet he is not necessarily sick! He’s only old. His energy needs will therefore decrease due to the increased hours of sleep and reduced physical activity. It is therefore very important to adapt your diet to avoid being overweight. A senior diet is therefore recommended.

We all wonder from when do we consider our animal as old? This depends on the size of the animal, but in general, small dogs and cats are considered to be old at around 7 years old while large to very large dogs around 5 years old. It’s sooner than you thought, right? This is normal, we tend not to see the time go by or we just don’t want to see it. It is therefore important to see your veterinarian for a physical examination of your senior animal every 6 months. Aging increases your pet’s vulnerability to a number of health problems. A regular check-up with your veterinarian helps identify any potential problems sooner and gives you the opportunity to resolve any changes you may have noticed in your pet.

But what are the changes you might notice at home:

  • Increased panting: does Ti-Loup have breathing difficulties? Is he in pain? Does he have endocrine disease?
  • Change in water or food intake and / or change in frequency of urination or bowel movements: Does Fluffy have kidney disease? Does he have diabetes? or just a urinary tract infection?
  • “Accident” in the house: does Ti-Loup have pain in his joints and has difficulty going to the bathroom or simply getting into position? Does he remember where his toilet is? Has Fluffy become hyperthyroid?
  • Loss of energy: Does Ti-Loup have problems with the functioning of his organs? Has he become senile?
  • Has signs of osteoarthritis / arthritis such as: difficulty getting up from rest, decreased grooming periods, going up or down stairs more slowly, seems to have pain to the touch in some places
  • Seems to understand or listen less to instructions
  • Vision loss: is Ti-Loup starting to see cataracts?

Some changes can be associated with health problems but can also be secondary to aging. It is sometimes very difficult to tell them apart without resorting to a medical examination and laboratory tests.

Many dogs can also lose the ability to taste their food and hear well. These changes can increase their anxiety and responsiveness when surprised. It will therefore be necessary to speak louder and sometimes reorganize the house according to them, as you would do for an elderly person.

I would like to tell you about a final aspect that is unknown to the general public: cognitive dysfunction or dementia. It is similar to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in humans. About 14-35% of dogs over 8 years old are affected, a percentage that increases dramatically as dogs get older. In dogs with Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS), a substance toxic to the brain called “beta-amyloid protein” builds up. Other changes in the brain include decreased blood flow and neurons. Neurons are the cells that carry information throughout the brain and body. When neurons are not functioning properly, the brain’s ability to remember, process information, and tell the body what to do is impaired.

It is possible to look for certain signs at home such as:

  • changes in behavior:
    • Wandering or disorientation: walking aimlessly, looking at the wall,
    • Change in the sleep cycle: restlessness at night and sleeps more during the day,
  • Decreased cleanliness: can’t seem to remember where the toilet is.
  • Change in daily activities: loss of interaction with other family members, unable to locate items or food on the ground.
  • Increased anxiety: vocalization at night, loss of interaction, or increased barking in front of new people or other animals.
  • Memory loss: no longer seems to understand the controls, gets lost in the house or in the yard.

I agree with you, these changes are scary and it can be difficult to tell them apart from aging or illness. To do this, your medical team will ask you questions and perform certain tests to rule out certain diseases. The good news is that you can help your Ti-Loup or Fluffy. Some senior diets are specially formulated to counter this disease. Other vets will switch to drugs that are MAO inhibitors to help neurons communicate better with each other. In closing, like Alzheimer’s, you have to keep your brain and body stimulated. So you have to keep walking, learning the controls, playing interactive games and keeping him involved in the family. All at a pace suitable for a grandpa or grandma!

We cannot prevent the progression of this disease, but we can certainly improve the quality of life of these animals and yours.

Exotic animals also age. It might sound obvious, but it’s important to stay alert for signs. Exotic animals are predominantly prey. It is therefore in their nature to hide the slightest sign of weakness. Osteoarthritis, kidney disease, cancer, heart disease, just how other degenerative diseases affect them too.

It is therefore good to adjust the environment in order to facilitate their movement, to limit falls. Ex: For an aging rabbit suffering from arthritis pain, put a bowl of water, rather than a refreshment bar. For birds having difficulty moving or standing on the bars, opt for flat bars and a cage that is wider than it is high. For a hamster having difficulty moving, limit the length of the tunnels. If your ferret, bird, or other animal is suffering from vision loss due to cataracts or other illnesses, try to limit drastic changes in the environment so they know their routine and places. It is also important to keep them physically and mentally active, as well as to offer them quality food, since as they age, the digestive system becomes more and more sensitive and fragile. Finally, plan a budget for blood follow-ups and veterinary care. Aging animals are often more sick and require daily care and sometimes medication. Our exotics are small but also deserve little attention as they age.

In conclusion, aging is a normal and inevitable process, but our animals can live this stage of their life with pleasure and comfort. There is nothing nicer than seeing a happy and healthy senior animal. Veterinary medicine has evolved a lot in this field in recent years because our patients are living longer and longer. Our only desire is to team up with you to see Ti-Loup age in style. Take the time to observe your pet at home and ask yourself if he is saying something to you with his behavior … if so, do him a favor for all the years spent with him and offer him a regular visit to his veterinarian. He will be very grateful to you.

Dr. Chantal Riendeau D.M.V.

Dr. Maude Gauthier-Bouchard, B.Sc, DMV, IPSAV in exotic animal medicine.

Photo credits:
Stephanie Yolanda, Nancy Guth et Liana Tril on Pexels