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At What Age Does Your Pet Become 'Old'?

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If you have a hard time coming to grips with your mortality as you age -- just be glad you're not a dog or cat. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, cats and small dogs are labeled geriatric at age 7, and for large dogs, it's age 6.

However these labels are widely contested, as a new method of calculating pet age shows that seven-year-old dogs and cats are the equivalent of a 44-year-old human.

Dr. Emily Pointer, the medical coordinator at the ASPCA to Animals’ Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York, noted that our pets are also living much longer with improvements in food, vaccinations and the popularity of spaying and neutering. Technology also allows owners to provide advanced treatment for their pets as they age. “In the past, if your cat was diagnosed with diabetes, the recommendation was probably to euthanize the cat. Now, a lot fewer people are willing to do that because it’s a treatable disease,” Pointer said.

Is the 'Old' Label Harmful?

Some pet owners and rescue volunteers fear that labeling six or seven-year-old pets as geriatric will hurt their chances of being adopted from shelters because  “people don’t want old dogs.”

Judith Piper, founder and executive director of the rescue group Old Dog Haven in Lake Stevens, Washington, noted that older animals often make better pets than young puppies or kittens. “Old dogs are usually good with other dogs and housebroken. They are easy and don’t require a lot of trips to the park. They are usually happy with us and do whatever we want,” she explained.

Regardless of how great they are as companions, the age debate rolls on. Tracie Hotchner, author of “The Dog Bible” and “The Cat Bible,” believes the AVMA’s numbers are right -- and believes that publicizing the geriatric condition leads to better animal care.

“It raises people’s awareness of the need to get more frequent and more thorough wellness checks,” she said. “Not enough people respect the fairly serious physical changes that take place in older cats and dogs and the kind of preventive care that’s available.”
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