The Geriatric Issue

America’s pets, like its people, are aging
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Veterinarians are seeing more and more senior pets.

The percentage of cats and dogs 6 years of age or older jumped between 1987 and 2001, according to U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics sourcebooks. The sourcebooks draw on data from national studies performed by the AVMA, the next of which is due to be conducted in 2007.

The studies revealed that the percentage of owned dogs age 11 or older increased from 14.6 percent in 1987 to 15.5 percent in 2001. The percentage of owned cats age 11 or older increased from 10.6 percent in 1987 to 16.8 percent in 2001. During that same period, the percentage of dogs age 6 to 10 rose from 27.1 percent to 31.2 percent whereas cats age 6 to 10 rose from 17.9 percent to 25.7 percent.

Veterinary medicine has responded to the aging of the pet population with a variety of measures. A large amount of recent veterinary research has focused on geriatric conditions such as cognitive dysfunction, glaucoma, and osteoarthritis (see page 482). Veterinary associations have released guidelines on senior care for dogs and cats (see page 483).

The veterinary community will continue to confront end-of-life issues, both for older pets and for older pet owners. Similar to human hospices, pet hospices have become more common (see page 484). Other owners are establishing estate plans for the care of their pets. Some pets live out their later years in retirement homes after the death of their owners (see page 486).

On the basis of comments from veterinarians, the trend toward older pets is likely to continue. Many veterinarians attribute the longer, healthier life of the typical pet to care provided by owners as well as medical advances. And the lives of cats and dogs might become even longer and healthier within the next few years.