Senior pets are special, and whether they are as frisky as when you first adopted them, or they are beginning to slow down, they need special care. Our team at Town and Country Animal Hospital wants to help by providing senior pet care do’s and don’ts, so you can ensure your senior pet remains happy and healthy.
DO ensure your senior pet receives regular wellness exams
Senior pets should be evaluated by a veterinary professional at least every six months, to be screened for age-related health issues. Many pets are stoic and exhibit signs indicating a problem only when the condition can’t be effectively treated. Issues that can be identified on the physical examination and blood work typically performed during a senior wellness exam include:
- Cataracts — When cataracts form slowly, your pet’s vision loss is gradual, allowing them time to adjust, which means you may not notice the problem. A simple eye exam can determine if your pet has cataracts.
- Heart disease — When our veterinary professionals listen to your pet’s heart, they can identify murmurs and arrhythmias that could indicate heart disease.
- Arthritis — Arthritis is common in senior pets, affecting approximately 20% of dogs and 40% to 92% of cats. Signs can be subtle or absent, and a veterinarian’s expertise is needed to recognize the problem.
- Kidney disease — Most pets affected by kidney disease don’t show signs in the early stages, but routine blood work can diagnose this issue and treatment can be started as soon as possible, to better manage the condition.
DON’T let your senior pet gain excess weight
Senior pets tend to slow down, especially when affected by arthritis, and they can easily pack on excess pounds. Stored fat tissue releases inflammatory mediators, which cause a low-grade inflammatory response throughout the pet’s body. Overweight pets are at increased risk for several serious conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, urinary tract diseases, and arthritis. The excess weight can also make breathing and mobility more difficult, decreasing their quality of life. Steps you can take to ensure your pet doesn’t gain excess weight include:
- Assess your pet’s weight — Weigh your pet regularly, and use a body conditioning score (BCS) to accurately evaluate their weight status.
- Determine how much food they require — Use the label on the food bag and calorie calculators to determine how much food your pet requires. These tools consider your pet’s age, weight, neuter status, activity level, and breed, to accurately calculate their daily energy requirements.
- Measure their food — Once you know how much food your pet requires, use measuring cups to accurately measure their food, to ensure they aren’t receiving too much or too little food.
DO provide adequate exercise for your senior pet
Pet’s need sufficient physical and mental exercise to help combat weight gain, and to prevent cognitive dysfunction. All pets require some form of exercise for at least 15 minutes twice a day, and some pets require much more to burn off excess energy. If your pet’s typical exercise regimen consists of walking back and forth to their food bowl, you will need to start slowly. Ask our veterinary professionals about exercise programs that are appropriate for your pet. In addition, ensure your pet receives sufficient mental stimulation. Cognitive dysfunction, which causes confusion, stress, and an inability to recognize family members, is common in senior pets. Keeping your pet’s mind engaged can help prevent cognitive dysfunction. Ideas include:
- Food puzzle toys — Feed your pet meals and treats in food puzzle toys, so they have to activate their brain to fill their stomach.
- New tricks — Teach your pet a new trick to help keep them mentally engaged.
- Nose work — Nose work sessions allow your pet to use their excellent sense of smell and their desire to hunt to find rewards. You can hide treats throughout your house and let your pet go on a treasure hunt.
DON’T neglect your senior pet’s oral health
Periodontal disease can cause extreme discomfort, tooth loss, and in some cases, fractured jaws. In addition, organs, such as the kidneys and heart, can be damaged if the bacteria enter your pet’s bloodstream. You can take steps to improve your pet’s oral health.
- Dental chews — Chewing on certain dental treats can help remove plaque and tartar. Ensure the products you choose are Veterinary Oral Health Council-approved.
- Toothbrushing — Brushing your pet’s teeth once a day will greatly improve their oral health. Use toothpaste specifically formulated for pets, since human toothpaste can be toxic to pets.
- Professional veterinary cleaning — Pets need regular veterinary dental cleanings, to ensure the nasty bacteria under the gum line is properly removed.
DO ensure your senior pet’s home environment is comfortable
You can make changes in your home to ensure your pet is comfortable and safe.
- Bedding — Provide soft, cushioned bedding, so your senior pet has a comfortable space to rest their achy joints.
- Bowls — Place food and water bowls in easily accessible areas, and raise the bowls to prevent neck discomfort.
- Stairs — If your pet is affected by vision loss, block off stairways to prevent falls.
- Furniture — Don’t move your furniture around, because this can confuse pets affected by cognitive dysfunction and vision loss.
- Litter box — Arthritic cats can have a hard time entering and exiting their litter box, so provide a box that has at least one low side.
Taking a few extra steps to ensure your senior pet receives the care they need will help prolong their life and improve their quality of life. If your senior pet is due for a wellness exam, contact our team at Town and Country Animal Hospital, and schedule an appointment.