Great news! Due to improved vet care and better dietary habits, our pets are living longer than ever before. As a consequence, this leads to a bit more veterinary care as your pet age.
What is senior anyway? There isn’t a specific age when the senior label is applied for either cats or dogs. It depends on species, breed, genetics, and the overall health of your pet. Generally, cats can be considered senior citizens at around 11 years of age. For small dogs “older” starts around 11 years old and about 9 for large pooches.
Here are some things you can expect as your pet ages, less energy, weight gain, and behavioral changes.
How can we best manage our senior pets to keep them as healthy as possible for as long as possible?
Vet care: The most important thing you can do with your older pet is to visit your vet more often. Age-related problems can be subtle and happen slowly – something you may miss but your vet won’t. If you notice changes in their behavior, appetite, sudden changes in their energy level, or any unexplained lumps, schedule a vet visit. Ask your vet for a body condition evaluation at each visit too.
Diet: Most pets are less active as they age so they’ll need fewer calories. Try feeding fresh veggies for treats, or to reduce the calorie content of their meals. Ask your vet about fortifying their diets.
Get moving: Exercise helps your older pet stay healthy. It will help to maintain a healthy body weight, slow the degeneration of joints, and it’s fun! Listen to your pet; if they seem tired, it’s time to stop. Maybe your dog used to hike with you for hours but don’t ask them to do that anymore. Dogs try to keep up with their owners even when they are tired. Keep it short and keep it fun.
Keep them thinking: You can teach older pets new tricks and you should! Try introducing some puzzle toys that your pet has to figure out in order to get a treat. Anything that keeps their mind active is a plus.
Brush their teeth: Dental care is important. Bad teeth will make your pet miserable, and it will be hard for them to eat. Keep brushing those chompers!
Vision & Hearing: If your pet has vision or hearing problems, be sure to keep them safe. Remove dangerous objects around the house, use gates, and keep them on a leash or in a fenced area. At night keep a light on for a pet with vision problems.
Accessibility: Your dog or cat may develop issues that make it more difficult for them to get around. Help them navigate by providing ramps, steps to get on the bed, a litter box with lower sides, rugs on hard floors, orthopedic beds, and even a harness to help them up.
Sadly, senior pets are often the last adopted at shelters, which is unfortunate because they are the perfect pet for many families. Most often they are trained, more laid back, and a lot less work than a puppy or kitten! So if you are thinking of adding to your pet family, don’t overlook an older pet.
Keeping our pets happy and healthy in their senior years just takes a watchful eye and a few accommodations.
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