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Caring for Elders: Advice on Caring for Geriatric Pets

In today's post, we discuss ways to optimize nutrition, exercise and veterinary care to help your senior cat or dog thrive.

Elder Pet Care

Much like people, cats and dogs go through a wide range of physical and behavioral changes as they age. While aging is certainly not a disease, a little extra attention from your veterinarian could go a long way to improving your furry friend's quality of life as they progress through their senior and super senior years.

The Importance of Diligent Veterinary Care for Geriatric Pets

Moving from a schedule of yearly to twice-yearly senior dog and cat veterinary care can help your vet spot signs of developing age-related conditions early so that treatment can begin before the issue becomes severe. This approach not only allows your vet to manage your pet's health issues effectively and but also work to slow the progression of disease. 

Issues such as anxiety, hygiene decline, visual impairment and joint pain are common in older pets. By really getting to know your pet and seeing them a couple of times a year, your veterinarian will be able to spot subtle changes in behavior, appearance and health that might otherwise be missed. 

Twice-yearly checkups for senior pets also provide the additional benefit of giving you quality one-on-one time with your vet. These appointments give you a chance to raise any concerns you may have about your senior dog or cat's health, get advice on senior pet nutrition and exercise, and ask questions. 

Defining 'Senior' for Cats & Dogs

Different pets age at different rates. Cats and small dogs are generally considered senior when they reach 11 or 12 years of age, medium and large dogs at categorized as senior at around 8 to 10 years, and giant breed dogs may reach senior status as young as 6 or 7 years old.

What to Expect as Your Pet Ages

So, what changes can you expect to see as your pet ages? That depends on whether we are discussing cats or dogs.

Signs of Aging in Dogs

As they age, dogs begin to undergo several mental and physical changes. While changes such as grey hair around their muzzle occur due to the natural aging process and won't need veterinary care, other changes may need your vet's attention. 

Common changes and health problems seen in aging dogs include:

  • Gum disease or tooth loss
  • Joint pain or arthritis
  • Reduced heart, kidney and liver function
  • Declining eyesight
  • Hearing loss
  • Reduced enthusiasm for walks and play

Signs of Aging in Cats

In cats, the signs of aging can be more subtle than in dogs. This is largely due to a cat's natural instinct to mask symptoms and hide when not feeling well. That said, some changes and health problems that may develop in your cat as they age include:

  • Gingivitis, tooth resorption or tooth loss
  • Joint pain or arthritis
  • Reduced heart, kidney and liver function
  • Declining eyesight
  • Hearing loss
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Reduction of mental acuity
  • Loss of muscle tone
  • Diabetes
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Poor grooming and hygiene
  • Litter box accidents
  • General confusion (appearing lost or wandering)

Optimizing Senior Pet Care

There are a number of things that pet parents can do to help pets stay comfortable, contented and happy as they age.

Good Nutrition

Good nutrition is vital at all stages of life, but as your pet begins their golden years diet can be optimized as a way to treat, slow or even cure a variety of health problems. During your dog or cat's checkups, your veterinarian can recommend the best food for your aging pet, and then monitor the effects of dietary changes over time. Your veterinarian can also calculate the caloric needs of your senior dog or cat so that you are able to help them maintain a healthy weight as the intensity of their exercise begins to decrease.

Regular Exercise & Mental Stimulation

As your pet ages, it's important to make physical activity and mental stimulation a regular part of each day. Age-appropriate exercise helps pets maintain a healthy weight and enjoy good joint mobility. While outdoor cats are well able to manage their own exercise levels, indoor cats and dogs need the diligent attention of pet parents.

For senior dogs, follow veterinary guidance to plan the length and vigor of walks. Vary routes so that your dog can enjoy new sites and sounds along the way, and introduce themselves to other dogs. Your vet may suggest shorter more frequent walks if your dog is experiencing health challenges.  For additional mental stimulation consider teaching your old dog a new trick or two or bring home a new food puzzle for them to solve.

Indoor cats love to chase and play as much as their outdoor cousins. Take some time each day to play with your elderly feline. Toys on a string can be moved around to simulate prey and get your kitty motivated and moving. Cat trees and toys filled with catnip can help to liven up your feline's day. Food puzzles are also available to switch your kitty's brain into problem-solving mode.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you have an elderly pet? Contact our Apple Valley vets today to book a senior wellness exam. Our vets can help you to provide your old pet with the diligent care they need to thrive.

Caring for pets in the heart of the Victor Valley.

Bear Valley Animal Hospital welcomes new and existing clients from Hesperia, Victorville, Lucerne Valley, and across the High Desert to our Apple Valley veterinary clinic.

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