How to Manage Your Senior Pet’s Health
Most pets are considered to be senior when they reach 7 years of age, and can live to be 10-13 years old for dogs, or 13-17 years old for cats. These estimates vary with every pet depending on a variety of factors, including breed. With advancing veterinary care and more advanced research into proper pet care, it is not uncommon for our companion animals to live beyond these estimated time spans. Because of this, it is important that pet parents know the best ways to manage their aging pets. Primary areas of concern for senior pets are health and disease management, nutrition, physical exercise, mental stimulation, and end of life decisions.
Health and Disease Management
The most important way to care for your senior pet is to bring them to the veterinarian regularly. This will ensure you catch any diseases, pains, or other health concerns early enough to treat or prevent suffering. When we live with an animal, we can sometimes oversee little changes that indicate something is wrong, so regular visits to the veterinarian can help you keep on top of these changes. We want our pets to be their best selves all the way until the end, and having a good relationship with your vet with help make that happen.
Senior pets have different nutritional needs than younger pets. Often, they require fewer calories due to a slower metabolism and overall decrease in activity. To prevent weight gain in older pets, it is advised to switch them to a senior diet. Many brands of pet food offer senior varieties that are lower in fat and higher in fiber. Being overweight can cause a number of health problems as they age and affect mobility, so be sure to keep your pet at a healthy weight throughout their whole life. It is much harder to get weight off of a senior pet than a young one with a lot of energy!
On the other end of the spectrum, some older pets lose their appetite and can become too thin. There are a number of ways you can encourage them to eat, such as buying food with smaller kibble so it is easier to chew and swallow, or adding broth, wet food, or other yummy items to their kibble to make it more appealing and softer to eat. You could also talk to your veterinarian about homemade diet recipes that your pet won’t be able to resist. Many veterinarians recommend feeding senior pets 3-4 smaller meals throughout the day, as big meals can be harder on their digestion systems.
One factor that can determine the health and longevity of a pet is how much daily exercise they get. Exercise helps keep muscles, joints, and bones active and healthy, but also helps prevent other health issues, such as heart disease, and improves mental health. You should provide daily exercise for your pet at any age, but it is especially important with senior pets to keep them moving. Your senior pet may not be able to exercise the way they used to but it is important to keep them doing the things they love at a pace they can handle. For your daily walks, your dog may not be able to go as far or as fast as they could. They may even be a little reluctant to get up and out, but it is important to take the time and patience needed to get them their daily exercise. Be prepared to let them sniff more or take breaks as needed, and adjust your route as needed. Swimming is a great form of exercise for senior dogs (and maybe some brave cats…).
Senior pets usually are less playful than their younger selves, but they can definitely have their bursts of energy and you should take advantage of that whenever they offer it to you! The play may not be as vigorous as it once was, and that is ok. If you throw a ball with your dog, or play with the laser pointer with your cat, be mindful that they have aches and pains and keep the play milder to prevent injuries. Senior dogs will definitely rest more, especially after a busy day or a particularly fun bought of exercise. Use this time to give them extra snuggles and pets!
To read more information about mental health and end of life decisions for our senior pets, visit our blog articles!