Caring for senior pets has many different requirements than those of a younger pet. While this is probably not a surprise to anyone, many people do not know when their pets are considered ‘senior’ animals. Giant breeds such as Great Danes are considered seniors around 5 years old. Moderate and smaller breeds, such as Labs and Jack Russell terriers, become “senior’ when they reach about age 7. Generally, cats are considered to be seniors when they reach the age of 8. As with humans, aging brings many changes for your pet’s body and needs. Older pets are more prone to develop arthritis and other degenerative diseases that slow them down. They will begin to tire more easily, have trouble getting up, or struggle to find a comfortable sleeping position. It is vital that you monitor your pets for pain and discomfort, and bring them into the vet if you have concerns.
Another common issue among older pets is dental disease. Veterinarians can find evidence of dental disease in pets as early as two to three years old. If this disease is not treated early on, by the time your pets are seniors they may lose teeth to the disease. Dental disease can also be painful, causing your pets to avoid eating and leading to weight loss.
Weight management is another crucial part of keeping your senior pet healthy. While some older animals develop diseases of the thyroid, liver, mouth, and heart that can lead to weight loss, other pets experience a steep decline in energy levels that cause them to become couch potatoes and experience weight gain. Obesity is a major issue in both senior dogs and senior cats, and can be a major issue for your pets.
There are several steps that you as an owner can take to ensure that your senior pet is comfortable and happy:
- Schedule regular visits with your veterinarian. Your pets need to be examined at least yearly, even if they appear healthy. Many diseases can remain hidden for a long time. It is much cheaper to prevent disease than it is to treat it.
- Maintain your pet’s mouth. Brushing your pet’s teeth can help prevent diseases of the mouth and keep your pet healthy. If you cannot brush your pet’s teeth, consider dental treats that help keep the teeth clean. Your pet’s dental condition can be evaluated during your visit and at-home maintenance can be discussed
- Feed your pets a high quality diet. Keep in mind that cats are obligate carnivores and require a diet high in protein. This fact remains true even as your cat ages. Additionally, learn to read your pet’s food labels so you know what you are feeding your animal, and consult your vet if you have any questions about what to feed your senior pet.
- Feed your pet to maintain their ideal body weight. Obesity in pets can cause diabetes, skin and liver disease, and even cancer. Consult with your vet to determine the appropriate diet for your senior animal, taking into account their age and energy level. Also ask your vet about a special diet if your pet has any diseases.
- Ask for a body condition evaluation during your visit. This is crucial to determining whether your pet is overweight, underweight, or at the ideal body weight. Your vet can teach you how to assess your pet’s body condition at home following simple guidelines.
- Exercise your pets. With age comes decreased energy. However, this does not negate the need for regular exercise, though it should be less intense than the exercise required for younger animals. Take your dog for short walks to help keep their joints loose and maintain muscle. Keep interactive toys available for your senior cat, and perhaps give them access to the outdoors via a cardio workouts or short walks on a leash. Provide accommodations for your senior pet. Whether this is placing shorter boxes in areas that your cat can easily access or ramps for your dog to get up and down the stairs more easily, adding some accommodation for your pet can help keep them happy, safe, and comfortable, as they grow older.