Senior pets: what are they?


Good morning CHS Supporters!

November marks senior pet month here at Calgary Humane Society! Today on the blog, we’re bringing you a frequently asked question… what makes a pet a senior pet anyway?

Why do we need to know when our animals are considered ‘seniors’? 

Like humans, pets experience many aging related changes as they grow older. Unfortunately, our pets age much faster than we do, so this means they become senior citizens much earlier as well. Normal aging changes often include fading eyesight, a loss of hearing and, sometimes, the development of arthritis. What does this mean for a senior pet? Thankfully, these changes are usually mild to moderate and manageable with regular veterinary care and/or lifestyle changes. This makes regular vet care for senior animals especially important as most conditions are much easier to treat when caught early.

At Calgary Humane Society, cats and dogs over 7 years of age are typically called ‘senior’ animals. Like all animals at Calgary Humane Society, every senior pet receives a health exam when they arrive at the shelter to ensure they will have a healthy and happy life in their new home. For senior pets, this usually includes a few extra blood and urine tests to make sure everything is functioning properly. In the case of younger animals, we would usually only do these tests if our veterinarians felt there was a medical reason to (and sometimes there is) but once a pet hits the ‘senior’ age category we automatically do these extra tests. In previous years, we have had a lot of people ask us about using age 7 for ‘senior’ status because many cats and small dogs live well beyond that – sometimes up to age 20 or more! That’s absolutely true. Many pets do live very long and healthy lives and may be in a healthy mid-life stage at age 7; however, some breeds have much shorter lifespans, so we had to pick an age that made sense for them. Using the age of 7 is a convenient way to make sure the animals that are most likely to need the tests will get them. What about breeds where ‘senior’ status happens earlier than 7 years? No problem! Our vets use their discretion to order whatever tests they think an animal needs. So if a 6 year old Irish Wolfhound arrived at CHS, our vets would order any additional testing they need to determine its health.

For smaller animals, like rabbits and hamsters, or exotic animals, like reptiles and birds, we rely more on our vet’s expertise. Our veterinarians will assess each animal individually and using their knowledge of the animal’s lifespan and the health status of the animal they will decide what tests or assessments are needed.

However, just as with humans, our pets can show a lot of diversity in how they age. Below, we will discuss a few of the definitions for a ‘senior pet’ and what they really mean.

Trust your vet

Ultimately the best person to talk to about the health of your pet and any aging-related changes your pet may be experiencing is your veterinarian. While the guidelines above can be useful estimations, your vet will have the exact information needed about your specific pet to provide lots of useful information and advice on managing any aging concerns. Attending yearly exams with your pet in their younger years will help your veterinarian monitor their health, but when your pet reaches senior age your vet may recommend two exams per year to keep an eye on any potential health issues.

We hope this helps shed some light on how we chose age 7 as the age for senior pets here at the shelter! Do you have a topic you would like to see covered in a future blog? Let us know on our Facebook page!

Happy Senior Pet Month!