When we think about aging, disease, gray hair, and memory loss often come to mind. But, while your dog’s graying muzzle may be endearing, many other effects of aging may be less pleasant. As pet owners, we cannot defy all of aging’s undesirable consequences, but with a little knowledge and effort, we can help keep our four-legged friends fit and healthy. Keep in mind these seven important senior pet facts to help keep your furry companion in great shape as she ages.
#1: Senior pets are prone to health problems
Unfortunately, the older we get, the more susceptible we are to disease. While age itself is not a clinical sign or an illness, our body systems lose efficiency and wear down over time, leading to disease. Keep a close eye on your pet, looking for changes in appetite, behavior, attitude, mobility, and urination or drinking. Don’t take any change lightly, because subtle signs can be significant in our stoic four-legged friends. If you are ever unsure about shifts in your pet’s habits, don’t hesitate to contact our veterinary team.
#2: Senior pets need more frequent veterinary care
As pets age and health problems become more commonplace, routine veterinary care is essential. You may be used to visiting our hospital with your pet once a year, so be prepared now to visit more frequently. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends that senior pets (i.e., those age 7 and older, approximately) have a physical exam every six months, the equivalent of every three years in people.
#3: You may need to change your senior pet’s diet
Your pet may have turned 7, but that doesn’t mean you have to run to the store to swap out her food. However, you do want to ensure that her diet is healthy and wholesome. Commercial senior foods, which often include antioxidants for brain health and joint supplements, along with a balanced fat, carbohydrate, and protein ratio appropriate for older pets, can be a great option. Pets with specific health problems, such as kidney disease or diabetes, may need prescription foods that your veterinarian will recommend. Speak with our veterinary team before changing your pet’s diet, and refrain from adding any supplements without veterinary guidance.
#4: Alternative therapies can provide relief
Arthritis and degenerative joint disease commonly affect senior dogs and cats. Unfortunately, age-related osteoarthritis has no cure, but many therapies are available that can help keep pets comfortable. Your veterinarian will likely recommend some form of oral pain control, but complementary alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, and therapeutic laser, can work synergistically with traditional methods for maximum benefit. These alternative services should be performed only by a veterinary professional, so ask our team for a referral or recommendations.
#5: Senior pets need exercise, too
It is no secret that exercise keeps us healthy, and the same goes for our pets. Adequate daily exercise can help slow degenerative joint disease and keep your pet at a healthy weight, and the bonding time is an added bonus. Gentle, low-impact exercises, such as walking, light hiking, and swimming, are ideal. If your pet has been diagnosed with a heart, circulatory, or respiratory condition, speak with your veterinarian before starting any exercise regimen.
#6: You may need to make changes around the home
As your pet’s ability to get around changes, you may need to modify her environment. Your pet may have difficulty gaining traction on slick floors, such as hardwoods, tile, marble, or concrete, so put down rugs or mats to keep her from slipping. Ramps are great for cars, beds, and other high surfaces, so your pet doesn’t have to jump, which can be painful for pets with muscle loss or joint problems. Dog or cat doors may help if your pet has an age-related incontinence issue and needs to relieve herself frequently.
#7: Dogs can get dementia
Like people, dogs can suffer from memory loss and cognitive dysfunction as the years pass. Pet owners may notice disorientation, confusion, standing in corners, or the inability to remember commands. While writing off these problems as normal aging changes may be tempting, they could be signs of a more serious condition, so contact our veterinary team. Certain medications and supplements, along with mental exercises, may help keep your pet sharp.
If you have any further questions regarding senior pet care, or would like to set up an appointment, contact us.