As your pet ages, many of his/her basic needs, from diet to exercise, will begin to change. This guide will help you understand what it takes to keep your senior pet happy and healthy.
Dogs and Cats are very good at hiding their health problems and as an owner, it’s your responsibility to keep an eye on your senior pet to ensure that you are adjusting his/her routine to match changes in his/her body and immune system that make him less able to cope with physical and environmental stresses. Routine exams, preventive medicine and adjustments to your pet’s lifestyle can help him/her stay healthy even as the years creep up.
Different sized pets age at varying rates, with larger pets reaching senior status much sooner than smaller pets.
While each pet reaches “seniorhood” at a different age, most canines become seniors between 7 and 10 years old. It’s important to know your dog’s age, so you know when he becomes a senior. Ask your vet about when your dog’s needs may begin to change.
With many cats living into their teens and even twenties, it’s easy to understand why owners wonder: When is a cat truly a senior citizen? While many believe that your individual cat is only as old as she feels, most cats reach senior status somewhere between 11 and 14 years old. Here are the typical age ranges at which senior feline citizens reach various life stages, according to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP):
- Mature to middle-aged: 7 to 10 years
- Senior: 11 to 14 years
- Geriatric: 15+ years
WATCH OUT FOR SENIOR HEALTH ISSUES
You and your vet will begin looking for specific issues that become more prevalent as your dog and cat ages. Here’s a list of some of these issues:
Just as with people, regular health checkups become increasingly important as pets grow older. Most experts agree that senior pets should be seen at least once every six months. The purpose of these wellness exams is to do three things:
During a typical wellness exam, your vet will ask a variety of health-related questions in order to build a snapshot of your pet’s medical history. These questions often focus on your pet’s regular behaviors and whether you’ve observed any recent changes that may indicate a developing health concern.
During this checkup, vets typically check a pet’s body for tumors, signs of pain, or arthritis. In addition, your vet will assess your pet’s overall appearance and body condition, scanning his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth for irregularities as well as listening to his lungs and heart. A routine checkup may also include the following battery of diagnostic tests.
Most veterinarians agree that these baseline laboratory tests should be performed at least once a year in adult dogs and cats ages two to seven years old, and more frequently in senior pets. These baseline screenings allow your vet to monitor any developing trends in your pet’s health status as it changes from year to year. Additional testing may be necessary if your pet has any ongoing health issues, or if these routine screenings uncover any unusual results.
Many of the illnesses that commonly plague senior pets are obvious even to the untrained eye. So it’s important that you monitor changes in your pet’s health between regular vet visits. If any of the following signs present themselves, contact your vet immediately.
Incontinence (sometimes evidenced by accidents in the house)
Unexplained fluctuations in your pet’s weight may be an early sign of an underlying disease. Weight management itself can be a huge factor in your pet’s health. Obesity in pets increases the risk of developing arthritis and a number of other diseases.
Along with being more watchful over your senior pet’s health, it’s crucial that you keep up with routine preventive care such as parasite prevention, dental care, vaccinations, and nutritional management. As your pet’s immune system weakens, the importance of routine basic care only increases.
Create a comfortable environment for your aging best friend with easy access to food, supportive bedding, and fresh water whenever he needs it. In addition, plenty of regular attention and affection is good for morale, both yours and your senior pet’s.
Foods designed for senior pets often have less fat, but not lower protein levels. Ask your vet to recommend a senior pet food formula for your dog or cat. Size typically determines the age at which you should shift your pet to a senior-friendly diet:
- Small breeds (>20 lbs) – 7 yrs old
- Medium breeds (21 to 50 lbs) – 7 yrs old
- Large breeds (51 to 90 lbs) – 6 yrs old
- Giant breeds (91 lbs or <) – 5 yrs old
- Mature to middle-aged: 7 to 10 yrs
- Senior: 11 to 14 yrs
- Geriatric: 15+ yrs
Smaller, more frequent meals are often easier on a senior pet’s digestive system. You may also want to adjust your bathroom routine, giving your pet more frequent opportunities to go outside.
Older pets can’t regulate their body temperature as well as they could in their younger days. It is important to keep your pet warm, dry, and indoors when he’s not out getting his exercise. Senior pets are also more sensitive to heat and humidity, so protect them from conditions in which they may overheat.
If your pet has arthritis, he may prefer a ramp instead of walking up the stairs, extra blankets on his bed, or even a new bed designed to promote orthopedic health. If your dog suffers from vision loss, it’s a good idea to ease his anxiety by keeping floors clear of clutter. These little things add up.
For senior kitty with arthritis make sure your old friend is still able to easily access her food and water dishes, bedding, and litterbox. If it seems that your cat is having trouble getting to something, it may be time to rearrange things for her.
Plaque and tartar buildup can lead to a number of nasty health problems for your pet. Regular brushing with a specially formulated pet toothpaste can reduce the likelihood of any problems. Discuss with your vet whether your pet should come into the office for a thorough cleaning.
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