Dogs and cats are living longer and longer these days. Though it may seem counterintuitive, in some respects we should be treating our senior pets like we did when they were still puppies and kittens. Here are five ways how (and why) you should do just that.
1. Like puppies and kittens, senior pets require your extra attention.
Senior pets may not be as adventurous as their younger counterparts, but they are frailer and can easily injure themselves around the house or while playing outside. Senior pets may also suffer vision or hearing loss that makes ensuring their safety even more important. In addition, senior pets are prone to age-related illnesses. Watch your senior pet closely. Do not place your senior dog or cat in a situation where harm may befall your pet. If your pet experiences a change in behavior or is not acting like him or herself, consult your veterinarian.
2. Like puppies and kittens, senior pets require regular visits to the veterinarian.
Senior pets are susceptible to various illnesses, including dental disease, arthritis, heart disease, and kidney disease. Early symptoms of these diseases may be difficult to impossible to detect at home. However, your veterinarian is trained to look for subtle signs of illness and also has access to diagnostics (e.g., blood and urine testing, radiographs, ultrasound, etc.) that can easily identify problems early in their development. The sooner a problem is detected, the sooner it can be addressed. Early intervention will prolong your pet’s life, make your pet more comfortable, and will likely be less expensive for you than waiting until your pet suffers a crisis. This is why experts recommend that senior pets be examined by a veterinarian every six months.
3. Like puppies and kittens, senior pets require an age appropriate diet.
Calories and nutrients are just as important for senior pets as they are for puppies and kittens. However, senior pets may have specific unique dietary needs due to an existing disease or condition. For instance, pets with arthritis might benefit from a diet containing such things as glucosamine and fatty acids. Pets with kidney disease, meanwhile, may have electrolyte disturbances that must be addressed in the diet. Some seniors may even be overweight and require lower calorie diets; still others may be underweight and require a highly palatable, nutritionally dense food. Your veterinarian can help you choose an appropriate diet for your senior pet based on your pet’s individual nutritional requirements.
4. Like puppies and kittens, senior pets require alterations in their environment.
For young pets, safety is a major concern and pet owners need to puppy- or kitten-proof their home. In the case of older pets, the environment should be altered to address your pet’s comfort and accessibility. Older pets will appreciate a soft bed or perhaps a heated bed to provide even more relief for sore joints. For those pets that have difficulty getting around, providing ramps for easier access to beds and stairs should also be considered. Even a ramp to get into and out of the car would be appreciated, especially for larger dogs that cannot simply be lifted and placed in the car. For cats, placing ramps near perches can make it easier for your senior to access his favorite spots. Consider a litter box with low sides in an easy to reach area as well.
5. Like puppies and kittens, senior pets will benefit from a little extra playtime/exercise.
Your senior may not be all that playful or active on his own but encouraging him to become more active will have numerous positive effects. Exercise will keep joints supple and muscles strong. Play and exercise will also provide mental stimulation for your pet. When you cannot play with your pet yourself, puzzles can be an acceptable and enjoyable alternative. Check with your veterinarian though about what level of exercise is safe for your pet. This will vary from one pet to another and is dependent on your pet’s health.
All of us with senior pets want to make sure our pets live as long as possible, and are as comfortable and safe as we can make them. Do you have any other suggestions or ideas to add?
Dr. Lorie Huston