Whenever you have a bad day, you can remind yourself that tomorrow will be different. What about your pet? You have a general idea about the sort of day your senior pet experiences, but if they could, would they say their day is always like Groundhog Day, which is defined as a long, boring day of events recurring in the same way—such as sitting around all day doing nothing but waiting for the groundhog to appear. At Gentle Touch Animal Hospital, we want to cue you in to the cues, or behavior changes, your pet may be signaling, in hopes of a longer, more fulfilling life.
Senior pet behavior changes
Have you noticed distress signs in your senior pet? Your pet needs a veterinary evaluation if you see any of the following:
- Bad breath and appetite changes — Periodontal disease affects up to two-thirds of adult dogs. You can prevent your dog from rotting teeth, infection, or gum disease by keeping their mouth clean, to eliminate oral bacteria that end up circulating through their bloodstream, and damaging organs in the process. If your dog is in dental pain, they may avoid eating and grooming, which can lead to weight loss and an unkempt hair coat. At-home basic grooming sessions will not only soothe your pet, but also provide you with a great opportunity to regularly check them for lumps and irritated areas.
- Weight gain — Rather than undereating, your senior pet may eat non-stop—and you may be contributing to their weight gain, without knowing. If you tend to feed your golden-aged pet all the goodies that you can get your hands on—perhaps to show them how much you love them—your pet may be overweight, and at serious risk for challenges like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. A large variety of nutritious, low-calorie, tasty diets that stimulate weight loss and leave your dog feeling full are available. Also, you may need to add supplements, such as glucosamine, chondroitin, or fatty acids, to their diet, to help improve your senior pet’s mobility. Our veterinary professionals at Gentle Touch Animal Hospital can advise you on the best diet for your senior dog, and supplements that can help.
- Vocalization and difficulty repositioning — If your senior pet is yelping, panting excessively, limping, or stumbling, or appears to have difficulty transitioning their body, they could be in pain from an underlying infection or disease. Osteoarthritis, which weakens the joints, is a common, painful condition in aging pets. The condition may affect their mobility, and make them irritable over various fears, such as losing their balance or not being able to jump on the couch. You can help your aging companion with accommodations such as:
- Ramps — For going up stairs, or jumping on the couch, or into the car
- Paw Pads and Toe Grips — To help with traction on slick floors
- Halos for Paws — To help pets with vision problems
- Slings — Help ’Em Up Harness, for example, can provide extra balance and weight-bearing support for your pet
- Cushion – An orthopedic and/or heated bed can make a world of difference for a senior dog who should be sleeping like a puppy for 15 to 18 hours a day.
Your senior pet wants to keep their independence, and you can help. Most importantly, in addition to the adjustments you make at home, ensure your dog has regular veterinary wellness checks, to help ensure any problems are caught early when they are more easily treated. Your veterinarian knows the precautions you must take to ensure your pet’s life is less stressful. The wellness exam will include checking their heart and lungs for disorders or infections, their skin for hormonal concerns, their abdomen for tumors or abnormal organ size, and their back and limbs for lameness, pain, or arthritis.
Senior pet interaction changes
Have you noticed signs of confusion or lack of engagement in your senior pet? They should still enjoy some form of play, and if they seem to need more than a little encouragement to go for a walk, something may be wrong.
- Lack of exercise and play — Your dog’s reluctance to walk or play is likely because their joints hurt, but you must ensure they get some form of exercise. Low-impact activities like walking and swimming are beneficial for their joints and muscles.
- Seeing and hearing — Be aware that with age comes hearing and vision loss. If your pet seems to be ignoring you, you should have their vision and hearing evaluated.
- Disorientation — Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is a slow and progressive disorder that impairs memory and awareness, and resembles dementia in humans. If your pet’s sleep is disturbed and they are mixing up day and night, their cognitive function may be declining. But, you can help slow CDS progression by avoiding environmental changes, incorporating mealtime toys (i.e., puzzle feeders), and playing games like hide-and-seek that engage all their senses. Other CDS challenges include:
- Aggression — If your pet suddenly exhibits aggressive tendencies or irritable behaviors, note that those tendencies are likely products of their anxiety and sensitivity.
- Repetition — Behaviors like pacing, wandering, staring at walls, and following you around may indicate CDS. If your pet seems lost or forgetful, they may benefit from extra engagement, such as a safe chew toy that will keep them happily occupied during the day.
- Inappropriate soiling — Senior pets sometimes seem to forget their potty training, but they may be struggling to control their bowels. Senior pets should have their urine and thyroid glands tested regularly, since they are prone to kidney and hormone issues, such as bladder stones, urinary tract infections, and thyroid disease. A SleePee Time Bed, which allows your pet to stay dry despite wetting the bed, may be a good investment.
Your Gentle Touch Animal Hospital veterinarian can develop a treatment plan that includes medications, supplements (i.e., antioxidants, fatty acids, and vitamin E), and a brain-healthy diet that will aid in your pet’s relief.
This Geriatric Questionnaire highlights your senior pet’s true age, and includes a checklist as you navigate senior pet care.
Aging is often assumed to be a normal life stage that cannot be changed. But, the Gentle Touch Animal Hospital team knows your pet is not content with a Groundhog Day lifestyle, and we want to partner with you to slow the progression of their challenges as a senior, and help them live a less painful, more meaningful life again.
Contact us to schedule your senior pet’s six-month wellness visit, to discuss your observations about your aging pet, and to bring them up-to-date on their vaccinations and year-round parasite prevention.