There is a large disparity between the life span of a pet and our life span. After having loved a pet and lost one, it seems unfair. The best we can do is to keep our friends as healthy as possible and "forever young." Several factors have been shown to increase the life span of pets. A veterinary textbook, Geriatrics and Gerontology of the Dog and Cat, by Drs. Johnny Hoskins and Richard Goldston, indicates some of these factors. Tips to help keep your pet healthy and young for as long as possible include:
1. Know When Your Pet is "Old." According to Dr. Johnny Hoskins in Geriatrics and Gerontology of the Dog and Cat, cats are considered to be senior around eight to 10 years of age.
2. Wellness Exams. Geriatric examinations are recommended by many veterinarians when your cat is eight to 10 years of age. These examinations help identify early diseases or problems in older pets. Exams should include a history and physical examination with evaluation of the teeth, listening to the heart and lungs (by stethoscope), abdominal palpation (feeling of the abdomen) and inspection of the ear and eyes. Weight monitoring, parasite check (fecal examination) and blood work and urine tests are also often recommended. Other tests may be indicated depending on your cat's clinical signs (symptoms).
3. Watch for Illness. Careful observation at home is extremely important. By nature of survival, cats are very good at hiding their illness until it is often very late. Take time to examine your pet. Feel him or her for masses and indications of weight loss or loss of musculature. Things to watch for at home include changes in water consumption or patterns of urination, poor appetite, weight loss or gain, coughing or difficulty breathing, changes in activity level, vomiting, diarrhea and skin lumps or masses. If you have questions or concerns about your pet – play it safe and have him or her evaluated by your veterinarian. Early diagnosis is vital to the success of treatment.
4. Weight Control. "Obese pets have shorter life spans than non-obese pets," according to Dr. Richard T. Goldston in Geriatrics and Gerontology of the Dog and Cat. Obesity may lead to a number of health problems. Excess weight puts excess stress on your pet's heart. When the heart doesn't function properly, other organs may suffer including the brain, lungs, liver and kidneys. Over time, these problems may become severe enough to cause life-threatening conditions.
5. Keep Close Tabs. In general, "outdoor" pets have shorter lives than indoor animals. Infectious diseases, poisonings and trauma are common killers. Senior pets have decreased reflexes and may not see and hear as well as they used to. This makes them vulnerable to outside dangers such as predators or cars. Keep outdoor cats in. Consider a screened porch for safe "outdoor" stimulation.
6. Monitor Your Environment. Keep poisons up and out of the reach of pets. Common toxins include antifreeze, rat poison and slug bait. Keep trash out of reach. Don't count on your pets "knowing better." It doesn't take a large amount of a dangerous substance to make them seriously ill.
7. Nutrition. Feed your pet a premium high quality diet such as Hill's Science Diet®, Iams® or Eukanuba®. With your veterinarian, discuss the merits of a diet formulation for "senior" pets. Minimize treats, and if you do give them – make them nutritious and low in calories. Canned food that supplements a primarily dry food diet is a good treat for cats. It also encourages you to monitor the appetite because cats typically love canned food. If they don't come running for their special treat, they may have some sort of disorder.
8. Exercise. Exercise helps to maintain a healthy body weight, strengthens joints and muscles, and provides mental stimulation for your pet.
9. Spay and Neuter. Spayed and neutered pets tend to have fewer health problems. Spaying is the removal of the ovaries and uterus. Without these organs, ovarian cysts, uterine infections and cancer of the reproductive tract are no longer a concern. Health problems that can be associated with birthing are also eliminated with spaying. Neutering is the removal of the testicles. Without these organs, testicular cancer is no longer. In addition, the desire to "wander" is diminished, which lowers the chance of your cat suffering trauma, such as being hit by a car.
10. Mental Stimulation. Provide your cat with toys, games and quality time. Most cats are never too old to play. Encourage mental stimulation.