As our pets reach their senior years, the care they require begins to change. Our resident vet, Dr. Katy Nelson, shares eight tips all owners should keep in mind when caring for their senior pets.
Obesity can shorten the lifespan of your dog by an average of two years. Fat cells produce dozens of inflammatory proteins called “cytokines” which not only increase your pet’s risk of joint disease, heart disease and endocrine issues, but it can also increase their risk of cancer. Your vet can help you calculate your pet’s Body Condition Score, which is similar to the Body Mass Index in people, and make recommendations on how safely get your pet to an appropriate weight, if needed.
Exercise not only helps keep muscles strong and lean but it may also help to prevent a variety of behavioral issues, including destructive behaviors like chewing, digging or barking. Aside from preventing these issues, providing your dog with regular exercise supports healthy aging by easing chronic symptoms and allows them to be social and explore their environment.
Every pet deserves the best nutrition throughout their life but in their senior years, it becomes especially important. Your pet’s metabolism can slow down with age and there’s an increased chance there may be other disease conditions, so you’ll want to skip the chemical preservatives and fillers. Instead, opt for highly absorbable lean proteins, healthy grains, and fresh vegetables. I choose Freshpet for my senior Shih Tzu, Eddie Underbite, because it ticks off all the boxes for being a high quality, complete and balanced diet – plus it tastes delicious!
Over 80% of pets over three years of age already have some degree of dental disease. Dental disease can not only cause significant pain, problems eating, and foul breath, but it can also set up your pet for cardiac disease, kidney and liver issues, as well as serve as a source of infection for the entire body. By brushing your pets’ teeth, encouraging chewing on Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) approved items, and having routine dentistries performed by your veterinarian, you can avoid bad breath and future preventable issues.
It’s important to perform routine lab work on our pets, so we can know what their “normal” is. Having a baseline Complete Blood Count (CBC), chemistry panel, urinalysis and thyroid profile is important to allow us to monitor small changes over time. Being able to monitor even the smallest of changes can help your vet find larger problems before they get to a point where treatment may no longer be an option.
What’s in your pet’s bowl is extremely important – especially if they have underlying conditions. For example, if your pet has joint or skin disease, perhaps they would benefit from some extra omega fatty acids, or if they have urinary problems, a supplement infused with cranberry may help. Talk with your veterinarian about your pet’s specific needs and see if there is a little “boost” available to keep them in tip-top shape.
If your pet is having trouble getting up or slowing down on walks, this may not simply be a sign of age – it could indicate that they are in pain. Joint disease has a slow progression, so it comes on gradually, and you may not attribute the signs to a pet that’s in pain. I often hear clients say “my pet isn’t in pain because they’re still eating and drinking and never cry out.” Unfortunately, stiffness when rising, reluctance to exercise and even panting can be more elusive signs of chronic pain. If you notice your pet slowing down, talk with your veterinarian about x-rays, physical therapy, appropriate exercise, and if pain medications like NSAIDs to help ensure they can enjoy their gold years pain-free.
Just like humans, our older pets can suffer from lowered mental acuity and even dementia. Fortunately, staying mentally stimulated can ward off some forms of dementia and keep our pets happy and bright. Easy ways to keep your pet stimulated include taking different routes when you exercise to allow them to sniff new territory, teaching them some new tricks with high value treats, such as their favorite Freshpet recipe, and look into puzzle toys and feeders to challenge them at mealtime. We not only want our seniors to stay around for a long time, we also want them to stay aware and healthy for as long as possible, too!
By following these eight tips, you’ll help ensure your pet can live a full and happy life throughout their golden years. If you have further questions about caring for your senior pet, talk to your veterinary team – they’ll be happy to help you come up with the best care plan for your pet.