Caring for Senior Pets

Due to improved pet diets and veterinary care, pets are now living longer and healthier lives. Many families have well-loved senior pets, and these senior pets frequently require special attention and care. Each life stage of the pet requires different care. Cats and dogs are generally thought to be seniors around age 7. This varies based on breed and species. Cats and small dogs tend to live longer than the giant breed dogs. That means, the giant breeds (Newfoundland, St. Bernard, Leonberger, Great Dane, Mastiff, etc.) can be considered seniors earlier.

Many health problems can affect senior pets. These health problems can include arthritis, cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, urinary problems, liver disease, joint or bone disease, diabetes, thyroid diseases and cognitive dysfunction. Many of these health issues also happen to human seniors. Many of these are non-curable but can be managed with diet and medications, allowing your pet to continue to have a normal and happy life.

Certain considerations should be made for our senior friends. It is best to be prepared for the age-related changes. Senior pets sometimes require special attention, diets, more frequent visits to the veterinarian, and some changes to their home.

Geriatric and senior pets should have bi-annual veterinary exams instead of annual. Your veterinarian needs to catch changes and diseases early to allow for easier treatment with a better prognosis. Senior pet veterinary care generally includes bloodwork to check for things such as kidney or liver disease, urinalysis, potential x-rays, blood pressure monitoring, weight monitoring, as well as the physical exam to look for visible changes. The veterinarian will also take a detailed history from the owner, to try to find any changes in the pet’s behavior at home that could indicate a disease or cognitive dysfunction. Senior pets may also require certain medications to help make them more comfortable.

Senior pets often require special diets. These diets are made to be easily digestible and to help keep the pet at a good weight. Many of these diets have different calorie and nutrient levels than the diets for adult or young animals. They may also have different antioxidants or supplements in them. High-quality senior diets should also be made up to help prevent muscle loss as the pet ages. Certain diets can also aid or prevent cognitive dysfunction. If you are unsure what to feed your pet at any life stage, ask your veterinarian. They can point you in the right direction, as well as give you guidance on the best way to switch to a new diet.

It is very important to monitor your pet’s weight as the pet ages. Being overweight can make your pet’s arthritis worse. Sudden weight gain or weight loss can also be telltale of many different diseases.

Senior pets should also have regular parasite control and preventatives on board. Just like in human seniors, senior pet immune systems can become weakened as the pet ages. This means that they cannot fight off parasites or diseases as well as they once could. Senior pets should also continue to be vaccinated. They may not need every vaccine they once had, but should still be vaccinated for certain things. Talk to your veterinarian about lifestyle changes your pet may have had. This can include if your pet no longer does daycare or boarding, or if they no longer go for walks in the woods.

Exercise is important all throughout an animals’ life! Just because you have a senior pet does not mean they should stop exercising. Staying active can help your pet remain mobile and healthier, they just may not be able to go for as long as they once could. There are many toys out there like treat boxes, balls, and mazes that also make your pet’s brain exercise, which is excellent for pets of all ages.

Cognitive dysfunction is mentioned a lot with senior pets. This is when your pet may bark or meow at seemingly nothing, or seem to get “lost” in your house. They may also seem like they do not remember tricks, or how to do normal tasks. It is like senility or dementia that we sometimes see in human seniors. This can be helped with a special diet, as well special attention. Please talk with your veterinarian if you think your pet could have any sort of cognitive issues in order to make up a treatment plan.

Your senior pet may require some environmental changes. Stairs may become a challenge for them, as well as slippery floors. They may not be willing to jump up as high or as much and may stay inside more often. You may need to make new sleeping or living areas for them or placemats over the slippery floors.

Senior pets are amazing members of the family, with so much love left to give. We should show them that same love by providing them with everything they need to be happy and healthy throughout their final years.


Written by Mikaila Cariou RVT


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