Senior pets can face age-related challenges similar to aging humans, but you can take steps to help keep your pet happy and healthy as long as possible. Our team at Columbia Pike Animal Hospital provides tips to help you care for your senior pet.
#1: Schedule twice-yearly wellness exams for your senior pet
Cats and small dogs are considered elderly at about 7 years of age, and large-breed dogs reach this distinction at about 6 years of age. Once they reach this landmark, they should receive twice-yearly wellness exams. Pets, especially cats, are good at masking their health problems, and may not exhibit signs until their condition has deteriorated to a life-threatening stage. Senior wellness exams include:
- Physical examination — Your pet will be thoroughly examined from nose to tail. Conditions such as heart disease, cataracts, arthritis, and abdominal tumors can be appreciated on a physical examination.
- Bloodwork — A complete blood count and biochemistry profile will be pulled at least once a year, to evaluate your pet’s red and white blood cells, immune function, and organ health. Conditions such as liver and kidney disease, diabetes, and certain cancers can be indicated on these tests.
- Urinalysis — Your pet’s urine will be tested for conditions such as urinary tract infections, urinary stones, and diabetes.
- Fecal — Your pet’s feces will be checked for intestinal parasites.
- Thyroid function — Older pets are at higher risk for thyroid diseases, and blood testing will assess for these conditions.
#2: Keep your senior pet slim and trim
Pet obesity has reached epidemic levels in the United States, and this condition can put your pet at higher risk for several dangerous diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, and arthritis. In addition, overweight pets tend to have a lower quality of life, because they can’t be as active as their trimmer counterparts. Keeping your pet at a healthy weight will help ensure they continue to enjoy life to the fullest. Steps you can take to keep the weight off include:
- Feed an appropriate diet — Senior pets have specific nutritional requirements, and they should be fed a diet designed for them. You can consult our veterinary professionals if you are unsure which food is appropriate for your pet.
- Feed the correct amount — Use your pet’s food label to determine how much food they need per day. You can also use pet calorie calculators, which take into account your pet’s age, breed, and activity level to determine their daily caloric needs. Once you have established how much food they need, use measuring cups to appropriately measure the food, to ensure they receive the correct amount.
- Monitor your pet’s weight — Monitor your pet’s weight on a regular basis to ensure they are not gaining weight. You can weigh them on a home scale, and use a body conditioning score (BCS) to evaluate their weight status.
#3: Ensure your senior pet remains physically and mentally stimulated
Exercise is important for pets to stay physically and mentally healthy. In addition to helping control their weight, physical and mental exercise keeps them mentally engaged to help prevent cognitive dysfunction, a disease similar to Alzheimer’s in humans. Activities you can try include:
- Play hide and seek — Hide and seek engages your pet’s track and hunt skills, making this a wonderful game that keeps them stimulated. Simply tell your pet to stay, and then find a nice hiding place. Ensure the spot isn’t too difficult at first, so your pet doesn’t become frustrated, and then increase the difficulty level once they get the hang of the game. When your pet finds you, praise them profusely and offer treats, to let them know they did a good job.
- Create an obstacle course — Build an obstacle course in your home or yard to engage your pet. You can use common household items or get more elaborate and use traffic cones, hula hoops, and tunnels. Walk your pet through the course first, so they know what is expected.
- Feed meals in a food puzzle toy — Use a food puzzle toy to make mealtimes more fun and entertaining, and also to help prevent your pet from eating too fast.
#4: Keep your senior pet’s mouth healthy
Most pets have developed some level of dental disease by the time they are 3 years old, and as the bacteria progresses under their gum line, serious issues can occur. Dental disease can lead to bleeding gums, tooth loss, fractured jaws, and organ damage when the bacteria spreads systemically. Steps to protect your pet’s oral health include:
- Regular professional dental cleanings — Allow our veterinary professionals to clean your pet’s teeth on a regular basis. Our dental cleanings involve general anesthesia to thoroughly clean below your pet’s gum line, and X-rays to assess the bony structures supporting your pet’s teeth.
- Brush your pet’s teeth — Daily brushing is a great way to contribute to your pet’s oral health. Ensure you use a pet-specific toothpaste, since human toothpaste can be dangerous for pets, and a soft toothbrush that is small enough to fit in their mouth. If your pet has never had their teeth brushed before, go slowly, and allow them to get acclimated to the procedure.
- Feed dental chews — Chews approved by the Veterinary Oral Health Council can help prevent plaque and tartar accumulation. In addition, certain dental diets may be useful to help keep your pet’s mouth clean.
Keeping your senior pet happy and healthy will help ensure they stay by your side for many more years. If you would like to schedule a senior wellness exam, contact our team at Columbia Pike Animal Hospital, so we can keep them feeling spry.