Caring for Aging Pets
Pets, like humans, will eventually age and find it increasingly more difficult to function the way they used to, and that’s why it is very important to make sure that you are well prepared for this stage of their lives.
The rate at which pets show signs of aging, however, depends very much on the size, breed, and general health of the animal. In dogs, for example, it tends to be the larger breeds that age more quickly; small dog breeds and cats that live indoors all the time tend to live longer.
To ensure that you are well prepared for your pet’s senior years, it is a good idea to make an appointment with your veterinary surgeon to discuss your companion’s needs before it reaches a certain age – this should be around five to six years of age for larger dogs and around eight or nine years of age for smaller breeds.
Cats, on the other hand, can live up to twenty years, but they do tend to start taking life a bit easier from around the age of seven.
As well as seeking professional advice from your veterinary surgeon, there are a number of things you can do at home to ensure that your pet stays in peak condition and gets the most out of its senior years. Consider the following points carefully:
Exercise regularly - exercise is important for pets of any age, but once an animal reaches its senior years it is more important than ever. Regular exercise can help to keep your pet’s weight down, ensure maximum flexibility, and ward off age-related disorders.
Provide plenty of water - you will probably notice that as your pet gets older it drinks less water, and this can of course lead to dehydration. You will need to keep your pet’s water bowl topped up regularly with fresh, clean water, and it may be a good idea to place some additional water bowls around the house so that your pet doesn’t have to walk too far to get a drink.
Feed the right diet - feeding a good balanced diet is also important for animals of any age, but it is even more important for older animals. A high quality diet that contains easy-to-digest protein should be fed to senior pets to maintain health and optimum body weight, as well as preventing the development of chronic diseases.
Vitamin supplements and antioxidants - when animals begin to age, they do not absorb nutrients from their diets as well as they did when they were young. It is therefore recommended that senior pets are given dietary supplements that are specially formulated for seniors.
Antioxidants are also necessary to reduce the damage that is caused by cell oxidation, as this can be a primary factor in the onset of many chronic health conditions.
Dental care - both cats and dogs are prone to dental problems in old age. If you do not clean your pet’s teeth regularly, tartar and a mixture of minerals and bacteria can build up on the teeth and gums and this can eventually lead to gingivitis. It is therefore crucial to clean your pet’s teeth from an early age so that it will continue to accept the process in later years.
Stick to a routine - Keeping to a daily routine will help your pet feel more comfortable in old age, as reduced mobility and failing senses may make your pet feel a bit insecure at times.
Failing senses - poor eyesight and deafness may result in your pet not being aware of you when you approach it from behind. Try to be more considerate and always try to approach your pet in a quiet and slow manner. If you have young children, try to make them understand the situation too.
Separation anxiety - sometimes older pets can suddenly start being anxious every time you leave the house, even if they have never been bothered by this before. Separation anxiety can result from your pet feeling insecure due to general aging or medical problems.
Obesity - obesity is a big problem amongst the pet population and it can lead to a number of health problems, such as heart disease and arthritis. Obesity can actually lead to diabetes in cats, and cats that already have the disease can get it under control by shedding a few pounds.
It is important to remember that any changes to your pet’s diet should be made gradually so that it doesn’t cause any sudden shock to the system. If your pet ever shows any signs of drastic weight loss, however, you should seek the advice of your veterinary surgeon in case it is a sign of something more serious.
Ailments and diseases - older pets are prone to a variety of ailments and diseases such as bone and joint problems, skin problems, kidney disease, heart disease, circulation problems, diabetes, cognitive dysfunction syndrome and cancer. It is therefore crucial that any lumps or bumps, shortness of breath, or changes in appetite or toilet habits are brought to the immediate attention of your veterinary surgeon.
It is important to remember that older pets still need to be wormed regularly and given their yearly vaccinations. Older animals may have more immunity to some things than younger animals, but they will definitely find it more difficult to recover from certain diseases because of their age.
If you can afford it, it is also wise to keep up with your pet insurance premiums in case of any unforeseen problems. Providing your pet with the best care during its senior years will undoubtedly help to prolong its life and make it feel as comfortable and happy as possible.