All living creatures age and eventually reach the end of their lives, and whilst seniority is commonly viewed as an unfortunate stage of life, it really should be celebrated as it’s indicative of a long life. Length of life is determined by a number of factors such as species, genetics, overall health, medical history, and, importantly, lifestyle and care in senior years. Following are some of the signs of seniority in some commons species, and how owners can help their pets’ senior years be comfortable and happy.

 

Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs have an average life span of 5 years. A few breeds and individuals will have longer or shorter life expectancies. On average, guinea pigs are considered to be senior from around 4 years.

 

Environment and diet throughout life are important factors affecting how long guinea pigs live; Clean cages, plenty of exercise, a stress-free life, access to lots of grass or hay, and a high-quality diet rich in vitamin C and free from seeds are all essential for good health. Just like with other pets, older guinea pigs will have a higher incidence of disease.

 

Signs of ageing

Greying fur, particularly around the mouth and nose, are early signs of ageing in guinea pigs. They will start to slow down, be less playful and rest more but remember these can also be signs of disease so it is important to get your guinea pig checked by a vet if you notice changes.

 

Common ailments associated with ageing include:

  • Toe nails thickening and twisting outward - this can lead painful infections and mobility issues and requires prompt veterinary attention.
  • Cataracts - where the eyes appear cloudy
  • Arthritis
  • Heart attack and stroke
  • Dental disease

 

What to watch for

Keep an eye out for lumps and growths and check your guinea pig for them regularly. Not all health issues necessarily signal that your guinea pig is nearing the end of their life, but as with any pet, changes to their health should be checked by a vet. Seniors should have check-ups every six months regardless.

 

Things that may help your senior guinea pig’s comfort include, deep layers of hay in the enclosure, heat pads to help alleviate arthritis pain and aching joints, and careful grooming. If they do develop age related ailments there are medications and supplements that can help them. There are even special treats made for rabbits and guinea pigs which contain supportive nutrients for the digestive tract, joints, and other ailments.

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Ferrets

Ferrets become golden oldies at around 6 years and can be expected to live for around 8 years. Grey flecks in their guard hairs and on their flanks are common signs of age, and their masks may become lighter too. Older ferrets will be less playful and will sleep more. While many changes may be nothing to worry about, older ferrets are highly susceptible to diseases and any changes need to be checked by a vet.

 

One of the key factors which will help your ferret live a long healthy life is feeding a high-quality diet from the day you bring them home. Some diets, for example meat only diets, will be deficient in nutrients so will require the addition of balanced ferret supplements.

 

Common ailments associated with ageing include:

  • Hind-end weakness – this may cause them to shuffle and slip on smooth surfaces.
  • Cataracts – where the eyes appear cloudy
  • Dental problems – good oral hygiene is important for all animals including ferrets. Your vet will check their oral health during visits, and cleaning may sometimes be necessary.
  • Lumps and bumps – keep an eye out for growths and anything suspicious on your ferrets body including under the skin.
  • Hormonal disease – changes to coat/skin, appetite, behaviour, or twitching movements are all signs that diseases may be developing.  

 

 

Rabbits

The average lifespan for rabbits is between 7 and 10 years, but you may occasionally hear of some living a lot longer. Most start showing signs of age at around 4 years, such as white hairs developing behind their ears, coats becoming finer and thinner, reduced mobility, and increased sleeping.

 

Good lifelong care will help your rabbit live a long life. Good litter hygiene, desexing, regular vaccination, plenty of exercise, soft or hay based beddings, companionship, and a balanced diet high in hay/grass and with no seeds are all important.

 

Common ailments associated with ageing include:

  • Changes in hearing and/or eyesight
  • Loss of muscle tone
  • Bladder and kidney issues
  • Dental health problems
  • Arthritis
  • Sore and callused hocks (“bumblefoot”)

 

Regular check-ups by your vet will help to address health problems early and are essential to help your rabbit live a long and healthy life. A full check-up including dental check at vaccinations every 6 months will help to pick up health problems early. In some cases, urinalysis, x-rays, and blood work will be needed to give a more comprehensive picture of your bunny’s health.

 

Rabbits can reach the stage where they need nursing care at some point in their lives. Be prepared to provide this additional support, knowing that they’ll be grateful for your love and kindness. Remember, there is a lot that can be done to help our rabbit family members stay comfortable in their senior years so don’t hesitate to get help.

 

Birds

There is a wide variety of life expectancies in our bird friends with some species only living for a few years while others can live for many decades. As they reach the later years of their lives all birds will start to show signs of aging and develop age related diseases. Lifelong high-quality, species specific environment and diet will help them live healthier for longer.

 

As a bird reaches its senior years small changes in the feathers, sexual activity, and mobility are expected. Significant changes in mobility, feather condition, eating habits, beak condition, or behaviour are likely to be associated with disease and require a vet check. Remember, birds are very good at hiding illness so small things you can see are actually indicating big changes in your bird.

 

Common ailments associated with ageing include:

  • Arthritis and gout – you bird may perch, fly, and climb differently or not want to be touched as much as they used to
  • Liver or kidney disease – changes in beak growth, appetite, feather quality, and droppings may be seen
  • Tumours – older birds are more likely to develop lumps and bumps both outside and inside their bodies

 

While it can be hard to watch our feathered family age, there is a lot that can be done to help them. For example, if your bird develops arthritis medications can be given to ease the pain and their cage can be modified to help them move around more easily.

                                   

Dogs

There are a number of factors that determine the age at which dogs are considered senior, with breed and size being significant factors. Smaller dogs generally live longer than larger dogs, and breeds such as poodles would be considered senior from 10 years whereas German Shepherds would be considered senior from six-to-seven years.  For all dogs – just like us - lifelong good health habits are important for good health in senior years. Due to ongoing improvements in veterinary health care and diet, dogs are living longer now which means that they can be “senior” for a significant portion of their lives.  

 

Signs of age in dogs

Common health care issues and signs of age in older dogs include:

  • Arthritis
  • Behavioural changes
  • Dental problems
  • Loss of senses
  • Incontinence
  • Weight loss (or gain)
  • Cancer
  • Liver failure

 

Healthcare for senior dogs

It’s never too late to improve the lifestyle routines for your dog’s health, and following are some of the key elements:

 

Healthy diet – A quality balanced diet in amounts appropriate to maintain a good weight is essential. Your dog’s nutritional requirements can change as they age, as well as the quantity of food they require which normally reduces with reduced levels of activity. We can provide advice on what’s right for your dog.

 

Regular exercise – Dog’s need regular exercise at all ages even though the intensity and duration of activity may need to change as they age. Exercise is important for weight management, maintaining muscle tone, and overall health. Be aware of your dog’s limits and check with us is you’re unsure about an appropriate amount of exercise.

 

Regular vet visits - Regular vet visits are extremely important as dogs age, so that problems can be detected early and treated before they become serious. Your vet will conduct tests to determine your dog’s base level health which this helps in the detection of abnormal changes. Six-monthly check-ups are recommended for senior dogs.

 

Good dental hygiene - Increased attention to oral care is required in older dogs to avoid dental disease and other complications that can seriously impact your dog’s health and in some cases even be deadly. Your vet will provide advice on cleaning routines required at home, as well as those that need to be completed at the hospital.

 

Prevention of infectious and parasitic diseases – Dogs of all ages need to be protected from parasites (ticks, fleas, worms, etc). Check with your vet about vaccination routines, as they may change as your dog ages.

 

Grooming - Older dogs – particularly long-haired dogs – may have special grooming needs. Being less active and spending more time lying around can lead to skin, hair and nail problems. Regular grooming is also a good way to check your dog’s overall body condition.

 

Love and companionship – TLC, patience, and your company, become even more important as your dog ages. Your increased presence and touch will help as hearing and sight starts to deteriorate. Don’t underestimate the importance of your love and companionship for your dog’s emotional wellbeing and mental health.

 

Cats

Cats on average are senior from 10 years but it’s not uncommon for them to live into their late teens, therefore like dogs they can spend a large proportion of their lives as “seniors”. Even though your senior cat may not be showing any obvious signs of slowing down, emerging problems aren't always easy to spot if you don't know what to look for.

 

Signs of age in cats

Health care issues faced by ageing cats are not dissimilar to many affecting humans, such as arthritis, weight gain, vision and hearing impairment, and dementia. They can also be affected by diseases such as diabetes, thyroid problems, kidney or liver disease, and cancer.

 

Following are some of the signs of age in cats:

 

  • Weight changes
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Reduced appetite and/or thirst
  • Lack of urination or incontinence
  • Emerging lumps and bumps
  • Runny eyes or nose
  • Difficulty climbing or jumping
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Listlessness or lethargy
  • Blinking excessively / pawing at eyes
  • Difficulty using litter trays
  • Forgetfulness
  • Excessive vocalisations
  • Bumping into things

 

 

Caring for senior kitties

Proper care of senior cats goes a long way in enduring that their senior years are golden years. Vet check-ups every six months are necessary, as cats are masters at hiding pain and problems can easily go unnoticed by owners until they become pronounced. Your vet knows what to look for so that issues can be identified before they become life-threatening or cause serious damage. Keep a close eye on any changes you observe in your cat and report them to your vet.

 

Important areas of focus for care of older cats include:

 

Diet – Cats need a high-quality diet specially formulated for seniors. Check with us about your cat's nutritional needs and how much they should be fed as they age. There are therapeutic pet cat foods designed to control certain health conditions.

 

Hydration - Cats need to drink plenty of fresh, clean, water to help prevent dehydration and improve kidney function. Older cats sometimes forget to drink, so adding wet food to your cat's meals can help to increase their fluid intake.

 

Exercise - Older cats benefit from regular exercise despite their tendancy to be less active and sleep more. Encourage your cat to play and move about, but don’t push them, especially if they show signs of discomfort or joint pain.

 

Joint care - Weight loss and weight control are the best ways to help prevent and ease the impacts of joint problems in older cats. Also keep an eye on whether they can reach feeding bowls and litter easily, and move them to make them more accessible or get containers with lower sides if they’re struggling. 

 

Dental care - Cats need regular dental check-ups and cleaning to avoid dental diseases and infections that can threaten overall health. Talk to us about at-home dental hygiene routines and diet options that can help with oral care.

 

It's not easy facing the prospect of your beloved pets growing old, but with appropriate care you can help enhance, and potentially extend their lives. Understanding the specific health care needs of senior pets and being a vigilant pet parent, can help you in giving your ageing pet the best quality of life possible in their senior years. Remember that being senior doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re at the end of their lives; You both just need to learn how to do things differently and cater for their changing needs.

 

Never underestimate the value of your love and affection, as it will be needed even more as your pets get older. Honour them and the love and companionship they’ve shown you over your years together by being there for them at this important stage of their lives. As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact any of the Vets4Pets teams.