Pets typically reach senior status between 6 to 8 years of age, and whether they are starting to slow down, or still as active as when they were young, they need more care as they face age-related issues. Our team at Otay Pet Vets wants to provide tips, to help ensure your senior pet receives the best possible care.
#1: Take your senior pet to the veterinarian more frequently
As pets get older, they face age-related health conditions that aren’t always evident by their behavior. Pets, especially cats, are excellent at hiding illness, and some conditions don’t affect your pet’s quality of life until the disease has progressed to later stages. Catching these conditions early can allow our veterinary team to manage your pet appropriately, to prolong their good health, and life. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends that senior pets receive a veterinary wellness check every six months. During these wellness visits, our veterinary professionals will perform a thorough physical examination, which will help us pick up conditions such as heart disease, abdominal tumors, dental disease, cataracts, and arthritis. We will also perform diagnostics, to help us detect diseases such as diabetes mellitus, kidney disease, liver disease, and thyroid conditions. In addition, we will ensure their vaccinations and preventive treatments are up to date.
#2: Keep your senior pet at their ideal weight
As pets age, their nutritional requirements change, and they typically tend to gain weight. Obesity is linked to several serious health conditions, including cancer, diabetes mellitus, heart disease, and arthritis, and keeping your pet at their ideal weight will not only help decrease their risk of developing these issues, but will also improve their quality of life. Steps to take include:
- Ideal weight — Determine your pet’s ideal weight. Our veterinary professionals will weigh your pet and determine their body conditioning score (BCS) during their wellness visit, to help you ascertain their ideal weight.
- Weight monitoring — You will need to monitor your pet by weighing them and evaluating their BCS regularly.
- Food — Find an appropriate food for your senior pet, and determine how much they should be given daily. Use the feeding recommendations on the product label, and then factor in your pet’s age, activity level, neuter status, and breed. Online calorie calculators are available, to help determine your pet’s daily energy needs.
- Measuring — Use measuring cups or kitchen scales to accurately measure your pet’s food, to ensure they receive the correct amount.
- Treats — Use treats sparingly, and ensure you adjust your pet’s meal portions, to account for their treats during the day.
#3: Keep your senior pet’s mouth healthy
Poor dental health can be painful for your pet, and can sometimes lead to a fractured jaw. Also, bacteria that accumulate under their gum line can travel in the bloodstream to major organs, such as the heart, kidneys, and liver, causing serious health issues. Take your pet in for regular professional veterinary dental cleanings, to avoid serious consequences. Brushing your pet’s teeth daily at home also promotes their dental health.
#4: Monitor your senior pet’s behavior
Senior pets are susceptible to cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), a condition similar to Alzheimer’s in humans. While no cure is available for CDS, early detection and disease management can help slow progression. Signs include:
- Disorientation — Pets may seem confused in normal circumstances, or become lost in familiar surroundings.
- Abnormal interactions — Pets may stop interacting with their owner, or other pets.
- Sleep/wake cycle disturbances — Pets may sleep more during the day, and vocalize more at night.
- House soiling — Dogs may forget their house training, and cats may stop using their litter box.
- Activity changes — Pets may lose interest in playtime and mealtime.
- Anxiety — Pets may exhibit anxiety more frequently.
- Learning and memory changes — Pets may forget well-known commands or tricks.
#5: Regularly exercise your senior pet
Pets need regular physical and mental exercise to stay fit and mentally engaged, and to help prevent CDS. Good physical exercise options for dogs include neighborhood walks, hikes, fetch games, and swimming. Cats tend to enjoy laser pointers and wand-style toys. Mental stimulation is also important. Ideas include:
- Food puzzle toys — These products are a great way to make mealtimes more interesting, and they help prevent your pet from bolting down their food. Commercial products are available, or you can make your own using a muffin tin and tennis balls. Place their kibble in the muffin tin’s cups, and then place the tennis balls over all the cups. Your pet will enjoy sniffing out their reward.
- Obstacle course — Create an obstacle course using household items and furniture, and let your pet navigate through the course.
- Hide and seek — Place several smelly treats in your pocket, and hide from your pet. When they find you, offer excessive praise and treats. You can make your hiding places more difficult once they understand the game.
Follow these tips to ensure your senior pet stays happy and healthy. If you would like to schedule a wellness exam or dental check for your senior pet, contact our team at Otay Pet Vets, so we can make their golden years their best years.