As your pet enters their geriatric years, they require certain considerations to ensure they remain healthy and comfortable. Our team at Gentle Touch Animal Hospital offers nine tips to help you care for your aging pet.
#1: Know when your pet becomes a senior citizen
Older pets do not always act their age, making recognizing their geriatric status difficult. Cats typically reach their golden years at around age 7. Small-breed dogs, less than 20 pounds, reach this milestone at about age 10 or 11. Medium-breed dogs, 21 to 50 pounds, become geratric between age 8 to 10. Large- and giant-breed dogs, greater than 50 pounds, are considered senior pets at age 5 or 6.
#2: Take your senior pet in for regular wellness visits
Pets, especially cats, are notorious for hiding illness signs. Regular wellness exams can catch disease processes in the early stages and allow the situation to be addressed before your pet’s health is seriously damaged. Senior pets should receive an extensive physical exam by a veterinary professional at least every six months, and should have screening lab tests run at least once a year.
#3: Keep your senior pet at an appropriate weight
As dogs age, decreased energy levels and metabolic changes make it more likely they will gain excess weight. The extra pounds put your senior dog at increased risk for health issues such as cancer, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and heart disease. The added pounds can also stress arthritic joints, causing your pet more discomfort. Senior cats are more likely to lose weight as they get older, and you will need to ensure they receive adequate nutritional support. Our team at Gentle Touch Animal Hospital can help you determine the right diet for your senior pet.
#4: Provide regular mental and physical stimulation for your senior pet
All pets require mental and physical exercise to keep them healthy and engaged. As your pet ages, exercise can help improve their overall well-being. If your senior pet is a couch potato, you will need to slowly build their stamina with slow, short walks that you gradually build up to longer, more brisk outings. Laser pointers and wand toys are great ways to provide exercise for frisky senior cats. Provide mental stimulation with treats in food puzzle toys, to make your pet use their brain to access a yummy surprise.
#5: Keep your senior pet’s teeth healthy
Poor oral hygiene can result in serious consequences for your senior pet. Periodontal disease can lead to bad breath, infected teeth that need removal, significant pain, and organ damage. Bacteria that grow in the mouth can enter the bloodstream and infect organs, especially the heart, liver, and kidneys. Damage to these organs can be life-threatening for your pet. Schedule regular dental visits, and brush your pet’s teeth daily, if they will allow this attention, to avoid unnecessary issues.
#6: Make accommodations for your senior pet
Senior pets are not able to regulate their body temperature well, and are more sensitive to extreme temperatures. Ensure your pet has a blanket during cold weather, and never leave them outside for extended periods. In the hot summer months, senior pets will be more prone to heat exhaustion, so be careful when taking them on outings in hot, humid weather. Arthritic senior pets will need their food and water bowls moved to an easily accessible area. Older cats may need litter boxes with shorter sides to ensure they can easily get in and out. Our veterinary professionals at Gentle Touch Animal Hospital may recommend medications to help improve your pet’s mobility if they are having significant difficulties. As pets age, they also may have a harder time grooming themselves, and may need your help keeping their coat clean and shiny.
#7: Ensure your senior pet receives the recommended vaccinations and parasite protection
Your pet’s advanced age does not preclude them from needing protection from diseases and parasites. Your senior pet will continue to require year-round parasite protection from heartworms, fleas, and ticks. Our team at Gentle Touch Animal Hospital may recommend a less frequent vaccination protocol, but your senior pet will still need the basic vaccinations.
#8: Monitor your senior pet for behavior changes
A change in your pet’s eating or sleeping habits, or their demeanor, can indicate a significant problem. In the initial stages, a pet suffering from a disease process may show only a behavior change. Geriatric pets can suffer from cognitive dysfunction, which is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans, and the common signs include disorientation, inappropriate elimination, and changes in social interaction, sleeping patterns, and activity levels.
#9: Spend quality time with your senior pet.
Your pet sees you as their hero, and your presence comforts them. As your pet ages, they may become more needy and attached, and will need your presence and attention to stay emotionally and mentally healthy. The quality time is good for you, too.
Aging pets require more care, but their presence in your life is worth the trouble. If you are concerned about changes in your senior pet, do not hesitate to contact our Fear Free team at Gentle Touch Animal Hospital to schedule an appointment.