Push to make November official Senior Pet Health Month

A grassroots campaign is underway to recognize November as Senior Pet Health Month, providing a time when veterinary professionals and industry partners can increase communication with pet owners about age-related animal diseases and caring for older cats and dogs.

Advances in veterinary care mean pets are living longer and senior cats and dogs are becoming a larger part of the nation’s pet demographic, according to Dr. Heidi Lobprise of Senior Pet Advocates, the organization spearheading the initiative.

“We’re helping pet owners keep their family members longer and longer because we’re able to do preventive care, we’re able to help with diseases, and we’re able to provide additional support,” Dr. Lobprise said.

Senior Golden Labrador Retriever and owner

Previously, pets were considered senior at 7 years, Dr. Lobprise said. Now, however, that life stage is applied to cats over 11 years old. As for canine companions, she added, larger breed dogs tend to have shorter life spans compared with smaller breeds and are often considered senior when they are 5 to 6 years of age.

Contrary to popular belief, the AVMA notes, dogs do not age at a rate of seven human years for each year in dog years. In fact, a study published in 2020 in Cell Systems found the pattern of aging in dogs, relative to humans, follows a logarithmic law, which also means that dogs age more quickly in the early part of their life than previously predicted. Researchers at the University of California School of Medicine and Moores Cancer Center scanned the DNA methylation patterns in the genomes of 104 Labrador Retrievers ranging in age from 4 weeks to 16 years. The researchers found that in both humans and dogs, certain groups of genes involved in aging follow a similar pattern of changes.

A patchwork of veterinary clinics and organizations promote senior pet health care at various times across various channels, including Adopt a Senior Pet Month, which is also in November. Dr. Lobprise believes a more organized annual effort is needed to garner the attention that senior pet health deserves, just as February is recognized as National Pet Dental Health Month.

Dedicating a month to senior pet health can help pet owners understand that an older pet is more likely to develop diseases such as heart, kidney, and liver disease; cancer; or arthritis. Behavioral changes may also occur. The animal may become more irritable and less active or start soiling in the house.

A dedicated month will emphasize the reality that senior pets require additional care, such as more frequent examinations, diagnostics, and nutritional and behavioral counseling, Dr. Lobprise added.

Senior Pet Advocates plans on growing support for the initiative, first by promoting November 2022 as Senior Pet Health Month on social media. The hope is to get buy-in from more and more veterinary organizations and businesses, along with state governments. The AVMA will also be doing some promotion via social media.

“So many people have senior pets, and they’re facing any number of age-related issues,” Dr. Lobprise said. “This just seems like such a commonsense initiative.”

A version of this article appears in the November 2022 print issue of JAVMA.