As your pet leaves their puppy or kitten and adult stages and heads toward their geriatric years, certain factors should be considered to ensure they continue to thrive. The team at Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services wants to help. We offer five tips to care for your senior pet.

You may wonder when your pet is considered a senior. Improvements in veterinary care and nutrition allow pets to live much longer than they once did. Cats are now considered seniors at around 12 years of age. Your dog’s breed determines when they reach the geriatric stage, but giant breeds are considered geriatric at around 5 years of age, large breeds around 8 years, and small breeds around 10 years.

#1: Ensure your senior pet has an appropriate diet

As dogs age, they tend to become more sedentary and gain weight. Overweight dogs are more prone to diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Feeding them a nutritious diet in the right serving amounts ensures they do not gain excess pounds and are put at risk for health issues. Also, ask our veterinary team for diets for special senior dog conditions. For example, if your dog suffers from arthritis, adding fatty acids to their diet may help lessen their joint discomfort. 

Cats are more prone to lose weight as they age. They benefit from small, frequent meals throughout the day, and canned food can help them stay hydrated. Older cats are at risk for kidney disease and constipation, and keeping them well-hydrated helps prevent these maladies. Also, provide numerous options for fresh clean water. Some cats especially enjoy water fountains, and will drink more water if one is available. As they age, your cat’s mobility may decrease, and you will need to ensure they have easy access by placing their food and water bowls on the ground.

#2: Schedule regular dental exams for your senior pet

Senior pets are particularly susceptible to dental disease, and loose, infected teeth, gum disease, and oral tumors can severely affect their quality of life. The pain and discomfort may affect their ability to eat and groom themselves. Oral bacteria can enter their bloodstream and affect their heart, liver, and kidneys, resulting in life-threatening situations. Pets with dental disease do not always exhibit signs, making recognizing a problem difficult, but regular dental exams and cleanings will help prevent your pet’s oral disease from becoming problematic. 

#3: Provide regular mental and physical stimulation for your senior pet

Pets of all ages need mental and physical stimulation to ensure their overall wellbeing. Physical exercise helps them prevent obesity and maintain good joint health. If your senior dog is not used to an exercise regimen, start slowly, and gradually increase their activity level over several weeks. Vigorous play time with your cat helps keep them physically active and engaged, but if arthritis is keeping them from exercising appropriately, talk to your veterinarian about offering supplements or medications that may ease their discomfort.

Senior pets also need mental enrichment to keep them cognitively engaged. Food puzzle toys will keep them mentally alert during meal times. Pets, especially cats, are stimulated by looking out the window, so set up an area near the window where they can comfortably monitor the outside. A bird feeder placed outside the window will provide extra entertainment. All pets benefit from time spent with their human, so ensure you spend quality time daily grooming and playing with your pet.

#4: Monitor your senior pet closely for behavioral changes

Senior pets can exhibit behavior changes for numerous reasons, including medical issues, vision or hearing loss, or cognitive dysfunction. A change in your pet’s behavior indicates that a prompt veterinary visit is necessary. Signs to look for include:

  • Disorientation Your pet may begin to wander aimlessly, become lost in familiar settings, or stare off into space.
  • Changes in social interactions Your friendly pet may become reserved and avoid interactions, or your reserved pet may become clingy. They may not recognize family members.
  • Sleep-wake cycle alterations Your pet may start sleeping more during the day and staying active at night, or they may become more vocal while they sleep.
  • House soiling Your cat may stop using their litter box, and your dog may start doing their business inside.
  • Activity level changes Your pet may become less active and more lethargic.

Most pets older than 16 will begin to exhibit signs of cognitive dysfunction, a condition similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. While no cure is available, keeping your pet mentally and physically engaged can help slow progression. 

#5: Your senior pet should have bi-annual veterinary visits

As your pet ages, they are more likely to be affected by health issues requiring veterinary attention. A veterinarian should evaluate your pet at least twice yearly to perform a thorough physical examination and run routine blood and urine lab tests. These wellness checks may find that your pet has a medical issue, but by catching the problem in the early stages, your pet has a better prognosis. Many therapies, including acupuncture and rehabilitation, are available to help with common ailments, such as arthritis, that seniors pets develop. 

Your senior pet is a valuable member of your family, and you are committed to keeping them by your side for as long as possible. Following these tips will increase your chances of keeping your beloved pet well into their geriatric years. If you have any concerns or questions about your senior pet, contact Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services.