As your pet ages, their body and mind change, and their needs change, too. But, your furry pal may add another candle to the cake each year, yet still remain young at heart. You can help their body feel the same. Here are five ways to help your senior pet remain happy and healthy, and to thrive during their golden years.
#1: Switch your pet’s diet to a senior formula
Your pet’s nutritional needs change throughout each life stage, from young puppy or kitten, to adult, to senior. Most senior pets require fewer calories than their adult counterparts, in part because they are less active and their metabolism decreases. Certain endocrine diseases, like hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease, can also affect your pet’s metabolism, and change their caloric needs. If your senior pet has developed a chronic medical condition, such as kidney or heart disease, they may also benefit from a specially formulated diet to help manage their condition.
Consider supplementing your senior pet’s diet with safe fruits and vegetables as lower-calorie treat options, rather than processed snacks. You may also speak to your Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital veterinarian about boosting your pet’s health with hip and joint supplements, or products designed to improve cognitive function, dental health, or digestive function.
#2: Promote a healthy weight and muscle mass in your senior pet with low-impact exercise
Aging pets often slow down, and appear less interested in physical activity and playing games, but regular exercise is essential for their health and wellbeing. Daily exercise not only helps your pet maintain a healthy body weight, but also aids in maintaining muscle mass. Many senior pets suffer from arthritis, and decreased joint function leads to muscle atrophy, so they greatly benefit from maintaining strong muscles and joints through exercise.
When encouraging your pet to exercise, however, stick to low-impact activities, like swimming or physical therapy exercises. Rough-and-tumble games like tug-of-war and agility can substantially stress your pet’s joints and cause discomfort, so stick to more gentle activities. And, if your senior cat isn’t interested in swimming in your pool or running laps around the house, sprinkle catnip on a toy. The scent may be enough to entice your elderly cat to act like a kitten again.
#3: Keep your senior pet’s mind sharp through daily interactive play
In addition to physical exercise, senior pets need to exercise their mind. Mental stimulation can help ward off cognitive dysfunction, so engage in interactive play each day, with treat-filled puzzles, teaching new tricks, walking different routes, or having family and friends visit. This stimulation can help keep your senior pet mentally sharp, and reduce anxiety.
#4: Alter your senior pet’s environment for easier navigation
As your pet ages, their vision, hearing, and mobility will decline, making navigating your home more difficult. Assist your furry pal the following ways:
- Provide easy access to food, water, and litter boxes — Raising your pet’s food and water dishes off the floor will help prevent painful crouching, while choosing a litter box with low sides will allow your senior cat to easily get in and out of their box.
- Help your pet onto furniture — Help your pet reach their favorite spots by providing steps or ramps to couches or cat perches.
- Ensure all resources are on the main floor — Keep your pet’s essentials on the main floor, so they don’t have to climb stairs to reach their food, water, bed, or litter box.
- Purchase an orthopedic bed — Cushion their aching joints with a firm orthopedic bed.
- Provide extra light — Place nightlights in darkened stairways and hallways, to help your pet feel more confident when moving around the house.
#5: Schedule regular wellness exams that include screening tests for age-related diseases
As pets get older, they often become more prone to certain health issues, and some can advance rapidly without prompt medical intervention. Because senior pets can succumb to health problems quickly, we recommend biannual wellness exams and screening tests.
Some of the most common conditions we monitor in older pets include:
- Dental disease — Since most pets older than age 3 have some form of dental disease, senior pets are certainly at risk for serious periodontal problems. In addition to being painful, dental disease can contribute to liver, heart, and respiratory infections.
- Arthritis — This degenerative joint disease can affect any pet, making getting around difficult and uncomfortable.
- Kidney disease — Kidney failure, which is commonly seen in senior cats, can be managed successfully enough to grant your cat a good quality of life for some time.
- Thyroid disease — A decrease or increase in thyroid hormone production (i.e., hypo- or hyperthyroidism, respectively) can cause all sorts of health issues in your senior pet, but can be easily managed with medication.
Depending on your pet’s age, breed, and health status, we may recommend multiple screening tests, such as:
- Complete blood count, to check for anemia, infection, or cancerous processes
- Blood chemistry panel, to monitor organ function
- T4 (thyroxine) measurement, which checks for thyroid disorders
- Urinalysis to detect diabetes, kidney failure, or urinary tract disease
- Blood pressure, to check for hypertension
Your pet’s changing health needs require regular preventive and wellness care, to help them stay happy and healthy throughout their golden years. Contact our Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital team, and schedule your senior pet’s wellness appointment.