We all want our pets to live the longest, healthiest lives possible and to be active and happy even in their later years. Early socialization and regular exercise set your young pet up for a healthy start, but what can be done to keep your older pet in top shape?
Cats and small dogs are considered seniors at about 10 years of age; larger dogs reach senior status as early as 5. You may begin to see changes as your pet reaches this age. Older pets can experience reduced senses of vision and smell, arthritis, changes in their sleep cycle, or be more easily stressed. More serious signs of illness include weight loss, changes in elimination, decreased activity, persistent sores or lumps and breathing difficulties. Senior pets are also more likely to develop diabetes or thyroid disease. Liver or kidney functions can be compromised and senior pets are more likely to develop cancer.
In order to identify and manage these conditions early on, older pets need exams and labwork twice a year instead of annually. (This is roughly equivalent to us seeing the doctor every 2 years.) Cats in particular often disguise the fact that they’re in pain and skipping preventive care can mean that serious problems are missed, simply because we’re not looking for them. Routine lab work can show changes in organ function before overt symptoms appear. For example, kidneys can lose 2/3 of their function without your pet having any obvious symptoms. There are many options available today to help manage common conditions, allowing geriatric pets to continue to live full, active lives. Medications and therapeutic diets can help control symptoms and slow disease progression. Pets with pain are often helped by laser therapy. Click here for more information: https://www.oaktreevet.net/laser-therapy/. Routine preventive care is also beneficial in supporting aging pets’ decreased immune function. Keeping your pet current on vaccines, parasite prevention and oral care is increasingly important during their later years. Above all, pay attention to any changes, even small ones, in your senior pet’s behavior and routine. Since our pets can’t talk, these will often be the first (or only) signs of illness or pain.
In addition to managing your aging pet’s physical health, it’s also important to keep his mind in top shape. Dogs and cats can experience cognitive decline as they age. If you notice house soiling, withdrawal from the family, or signs of disorientation (pacing, vocalizing, staring at walls) this may be what’s going on. Your pet may also forget previously learned commands. Be sure to discuss these concerns at her senior exam. There are special foods formulated for the geriatric pet that can help with cognitive symptoms.
Along with providing needed medical care, there are many steps you can take at home to help your pets as they grow older. Keeping them at a healthy weight will help if they have diabetes or arthritis. When mealtime comes, raised bowls can make it easier, especially for large dogs, to eat and drink. Regular exercise and playtime will also help with both weight management and mental stimulation. Introduce new toys and food puzzles on a regular basis. Pets with mobility problems will appreciate clutter-free floors and nonslip rugs. Your pet may also need more frequent bathroom breaks, so make sure he can easily access the litterbox or doggy door. Senior cats can have difficulty climbing in and out of litterboxes; if they are unable to climb in easily, they may resort to relieving themselves somewhere else. Products like the Gingerlead can provide support for dogs with mobility problems, as can having ramps or pet steps. Older pets can also have difficulty regulating their body temperature. Provide extra warmth and padding in their sleeping areas and monitor their time outside. More frequent but shorter walks are a good idea at this age as well.
Above all, enjoy the calmer disposition and loyalty of your senior pet!