The age at which a Pet becomes a senior Pet depends on its species and size. Cats and medium-sized dogs are generally seniors at age seven. Large and small dogs can be seniors at age six. Like humans, older Pets have different health requirements. By knowing the basics of senior Pet health, you’ll go a long way toward maintaining your companion’s quality of life.
Regular Veterinary Visits
A Pet should visit a veterinarian at least once a year. As they get older, the vet might recommend that a Pet receive a wellness checkup at least twice a year because it is more at risk for diseases, such as:
• Liver disease
• Bone or joint diseases
• Kidney diseases
• Heart disease
• Reproductive diseases in Pets that aren’t spayed or neutered
• Dental diseases
Before a Pet exhibits physical symptoms of an illness, its behavior might change. A sick Pet might:
• Increase vocalizations
• Seem confused or disoriented
• Not respond to commands
• Decrease its self-hygiene
• Change its sleeping patterns
• Interact less with humans
• Become more irritable, aggressive, anxious or protective
If you notice a change in behavior that persists more than 48 hours, schedule an appointment with a vet.
Sometimes an older Pet will not behave differently when it’s sick, but will exhibit physical symptoms of an illness:
• Decreased appetite
• Increased thirst
• Increased or decreased urination
• Difficulty breathing
• Sores or lumps on its skin
• Accidents in the house
• Sudden weight changes
• Abdominal swelling
• Wounds that don’t heal
• Unexplained pain or lameness
As with behavioral changes, call a vet if physical symptoms last longer than 48 hours.
Diet for Senior Pets
Older Pets can have special dietary needs. They need foods that are simpler to digest. Depending on your companion’s activity level, it might not need as many calories.
Call the veterinarian’s office if you are not sure about the right type of food for your Pet. The vet and the knowledgeable staff at the clinic can provide you with recommendations regarding the best brands and formulas for your Pet’s age and lifestyle. The best foods are those made with wholesome, high-quality ingredients. Avoid those that are full of fillers and animal byproducts, or “meal.”
Depending on your Pet’s needs, your vet might recommend adding supplements that promote brain health, joint mobility and overall wellness. If your Pet has a health condition, follow the dietary guidelines that the vet recommends.
Older Pets benefit from regular exercising because the activity helps maintain its weight, promotes joint mobility and is fun.
Walking is a good activity for senior dogs. Start with 10-minute walks and increase the length of the walks gradually. When your dog seems tired, it’s time to stop. When you go on walks, don’t forget to bring water, especially on warm days.
If you have access to a pool and have a dog with arthritis, give it a swim vest and hit the water for a great low-impact activity. Some kennels and facilities that do physical therapy for dogs have special tanks with treadmills in them. The dog stands on the treadmill as the water rises to a safe level. When the tank has enough water, a specialist turns on the treadmill for a short period at an appropriate speed.
Exercising an older cat takes a little more creativity, especially if it’s an indoor-only Pet. A good way to exercise a cat is to cycle through fun toys and activities so they always seem exciting. For example, set up a play tunnel that makes crinkle noises on Monday and encourage your cat to explore in it. On Tuesday, put away the tunnel and bring out a laser pointer. On Wednesday, let your cat play in a large cardboard box with holes cut out the sides.
Dental care is important throughout a Pet’s life, but is most vital during its senior years. When a Pet has a buildup of tartar, it could lead to gingivitis. The resulting bacteria could enter the bloodstream and cause several health complications.
Pets benefit the most from professional teeth cleaning and daily brushing. If your companion doesn’t let you brush its teeth with a brush, use dental treats and toys that mimic the scrubbing action.
Keep your Pet’s mind fit and its heart young with fun activities. Teach your dog new tricks. Give your cat a puzzle toy that releases a treat. Engaging your senior Pet in interactive play benefits their bodies and mind.
Younger bodies are more agile than older ones. As your Pet ages, you might notice that it doesn’t jump as high anymore, slips on floors easily, or has difficultly going down large steps. Make your Pet more comfortable with simple changes. For example, place rugs on floors that seem slippery. Bring a short set of stairs to the couch to make getting on and off the furniture easier on the joints. Secure a ramp over stairs.
If your Pet has lost its sight, keep it safer by using baby gates in areas where it shouldn’t wander, like at the top and bottom of a staircase. If your Pet is losing its hearing, start using hand gestures with your commands so you can continue to communicate with it after its hearing is gone. Many commands have universal gestures that are simple for you and your Pet to learn with regular practice.
Proper care for your senior Pet is crucial to its health and comfort. If you have an older Pet that hasn’t had a wellness check for over a year, schedule an appointment soon. The senior Pet health exam will allow the vet to catch diseases in their earlier stages (when they’re simpler and less expensive to treat) and prolong the time that you get to spend with your beloved companion.