Along with the amazing innovative advances in the diagnostics and treatment in veterinary care today, combined with the emphasis on feeding our pets a species appropriate diet has resulted in a significant increase in our pets’ life expectancy by several years. While this is excellent news, at the same time we need to understand the needs of our senior pets so we can continue to provide the optimum care to greatly enhance and maintain their health and happiness.
Older pets require more sleep as they age, and they may nap more frequently. Their appetites can change; consuming less food or becoming picky about the foods they previously enjoyed. Since their sense of hearing often diminishes, older pets may react negatively to a lot of commotion and loud noises in the home, often getting startled and afraid. Additionally senior pets may not respond to our voice as readily as they did when they were younger. Since older pets may not groom themselves, their coats may become rough and dull. Eyes that appear cloudy, and changes to acute vision may be symptoms of developing blindness in older pets. It goes without saying that any or all of these changes should be checked out quickly by your veterinarian.
In fact, since pets age at a much higher rate than humans (generally considered seven years more quickly), in order to catch any underlying developing medical conditions which may be treated promptly, veterinarians highly recommend that pets over the age of seven receive senior bi-annual wellness exams. Although an older pet may seem perfectly healthy at home, cats and dogs instinctively hide pain and illness as a survival strategy. They will only show indications of illness when they are no longer able to conceal them. That is one of the major reasons bi-annual wellness exams for older pets are so important.
Monitoring the heart and lungs, conditions such as skin infections, ear infections, urinary tract infections, arthritis, kidney disease and dental disease, along with complete senior blood and urine testing, in addition to providing oral care, are on the veterinary radar as our pets get older. In addition to the owner, the veterinarian is the senior pet’s best friend as well as a source of information and support.
Accidents can and do sometime happen. Older cats and dogs may soil floors and carpets if their nature calls are extremely urgent and cannot in time get outside or reach a litter box. Be patient with seniors, and do not admonish them. Arthritic cats can be greatly helped by providing them with lower sided litter boxes, or a step that reaches a high sided box. Since urinary tract infections and kidney problems in older cats can also cause accidents, add additional litter boxes in areas convenient for the cat. Using easy to reach wee-ee pads for older dogs can be very helpful to prevent house soiling.
A species-appropriate diet for elder pets is an important cornerstone to build and maintain robust health. Preventing obesity in older pets is essential. Obesity can lead to many serious medical conditions such as diabetes, heart and kidney disease. Since senior pets are generally not as active as when they were younger, ask your vet about whether lower calorie pet foods are advisable. Many senior pet owners are finding nutritious raw or home-cooked diets can help provide a well-balanced and calorie-conscious feeding program. Before embarking on raw or home-cooked meals for senior pets, consult with your veterinarian for her suggestions.
As pets age, their vision and hearing often acuity diminishes, therefore to help keep senior pets safe, pet-proofing the home is very important. Obstacles around the home can become difficult for pets to negotiate, and climbing the stairs may be challenging. There are pet-sized stairs available in pet stores and on the internet which can ease these problems to make a senior pet’s life a lot easier. Additionally orthopedic beds can give older dogs the support in which to doze on more comfortably. Do be certain any soft items are washable in case accidents do occur.
Most importantly, continue lavishing an abundance of love on your aging pets. They will thrive beautifully knowing that you love them unconditionally, helping them to feel secure and treasured when they may feel anxious about changes in their bodies. Remember that it is indeed a gift to be able to share many wonderful years with your once young and vibrant pet who is reaching into their golden years. This is a very special bonding period, and in this writer’s opinion, a great honor and tribute to the care that has been given to them.
To help celebrate Senior Pet Appreciation Month, FloridaWild Veterinary Hospital is offering $5 off Digitherm scans.
By: Jo Singer, MSW, CSW, LCSW (Ret)