As pets age, their needs seem to simplify—long naps replace long walks, and dramatic duels with feather wands and fly swatters end in a truce. While senior pets require less physical activity, training, and supervision, regular care and attention are as crucial as when they were younger, to ensure their health and wellbeing.
Unfortunately, as pets enter their more peaceful, contemplative years, they may fade into the background, especially in a busy home. Here are five easy ways to promote your pet’s health throughout their golden years.
#1: Maintain regular veterinary care for your senior pet
Your senior pet may look sedentary on the outside, but inside, their health could be rapidly changing. Time naturally weakens the immune system and negatively affects organ function—especially the kidneys and liver—making your senior pet vulnerable to illness. Semi-annual veterinary exams and senior wellness testing (e.g., blood work and urinalysis) allow us to detect early changes in your pet’s health, to avoid a potential crisis. More frequent exams also allow us to monitor and manage chronic conditions, such as periodontal disease, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, and arthritis.
In addition to twice-yearly exams for your senior pet, schedule an appointment if you observe any health or behavior changes, including:
- New or worsening mobility issues
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- House soiling
- Increased urination and thirst
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Growths or swelling
- Personality change
#2: Perform a monthly cancer check on your senior pet
Early detection is the best chance to effectively treat many health conditions, including cancer, which affects half of all pets 10 years and older. Take a close look at your senior pet once a month with a nose-to-tail home exam.
- Try to examine your pet in the same place each time, with your pet in the same position.
- Look and feel for symmetry by comparing their left and right sides and limbs.
- Check eyes, ears, nose, and mouth for unusual discharge or odor.
- Feel your pet’s lymph nodes for swelling or asymmetry.
- Note any new skin growths, hair loss, or irritated areas.
- Palpate your pet’s muscles over the shoulder, back, and hind legs.
- Note any areas of pain or resistance.
- Video and take photos of your pet standing and walking.
Log your findings in a notebook or on your phone. Address any concerns or discoveries with your pet’s veterinarian at University Veterinary Hospital. Our cutting-edge diagnostics and world-class oncology service can support your pet through any diagnosis, and provide you with treatment options.
#3: Exercise your senior pet daily physically and mentally
Age-related bone, muscle, and cartilage loss are inevitable—but weight gain is preventable. Senior pets need low-impact exercise to decrease arthritis pain and stiffness, and maintain strength and flexibility. Leash walks on level ground are appropriate and effective exercise for most senior dogs, while a food-dispensing ball or foraging toys will encourage senior cats to move. If your pet needs extra assistance—or motivation—our rehabilitation service can customize a therapeutic plan that focuses on maintaining pain-free movement, weight management, and building core strength and balance.
For pets with limited mobility, puzzle toys and interactive feeders are a great way to engage the mind and exercise the body without high physical demands. Enrichment activities and puzzle toys may also help slow the progression of cognitive dysfunction syndrome.
#4: Feed your senior pet a high quality diet
Senior pets develop different eating habits and nutritional requirements. They need fewer calories because of their reduced energy levels, high quality protein to maintain muscle health, fiber to maintain a healthy gut and stabilize blood glucose, and soft food or smaller bites to make chewing easier.
Pets with kidney disease, diabetes, liver failure, or heart disease often need specialized diets with restricted ingredients. Your veterinarian will advise you on the right foods for your senior pet.
#5: Make senior pet home modifications
Senior pets often face physical and psychological challenges at home that can make appropriate behavior (i.e., eliminating outdoors or in the litter box) and engaging with family members difficult.
If your pet is avoiding certain home areas, adjust their environment by:
- Placing non-slip rugs on slick floors
- Providing an orthopedic pet bed to alleviate joint pain and reduce stiffness
- Installing pet ramps for your couch, bed, and car
- Taking your dog outside more frequently
- Keeping litter boxes centrally located, and ensuring one side has a low entry
- Restricting pet access to stairs and spare rooms to decrease falls, wandering, and accidents
Finally, focus attention and affection on your senior pet every day. Pets crave social interaction, but may miss out on regular opportunities because of their mobility issues or reduced activity. Consistent social engagement positively impacts your senior pet’s health and decreases their stress, which tends to rise as they experience sensory loss and physical changes. Your presence, and simple, frequent reassurance, is medicine for your senior pet’s soul—no prescription required.
If you’d like to learn how the University Veterinary Hospital rehabilitation service can improve your senior pet’s quality of life, or to schedule a senior pet wellness exam, contact our caring support team.