As our pets get older, their needs and care requirements begin to change. You may notice changes in your pet’s mobility, hearing, vision, or activity levels, and it’s important to know how to accommodate your pet as they embark on the next stage of their life. Here are a few things to consider when caring for a senior pet:
Pets age more rapidly than humans do, which means changes in their health can occur in a relatively short period of time. To stay ahead of any changes in your senior pet’s health, we recommend regular check-ups at the vet versus bringing your pet in only when they seem sick. Keeping your pet up to date on vaccines, monthly parasite prevention, and dental hygiene are measures you can take to combat preventable illness. Additionally, having annual lab work and routine physicals performed by your vet can assist in detecting changes in your pet’s health even if they aren’t yet showing symptoms. The key to senior pet care is preventing what you can, and detecting what you can’t prevent as early as possible for the best chance of successful treatment.
Did you know that your pet’s dietary requirements change when they become geriatrics? Senior pet diets are generally lower calorie since seniors tend to have less energy requirements as they get older – and keeping senior pets at a healthy weight does wonders for their joints and mobility! Speaking of joint health, senior diets tend to have more glucosamine and other ingredients that support mobility and slow down arthritic changes. Additionally, senior diets generally contain less protein, which is easier on aging kidneys. At your next visit, talk to your vet about what senior diet might be best for your pet.
As your pet gets older, you may notice that they don’t get around as quickly or easily as they used to. Hardwood and tile floors can be very slick and difficult for older pet’s to walk on without slipping or falling. If it seems as though your pet is walking on ice, you may need to consider purchasing some rugs or mats to place around the house and make pathways for your pet. Bath and yoga mats are great for giving your pet some traction as they move around!
If you notice your pet is lagging behind or coming home exhausted after a walk, we recommend taking shorter, more frequent walks. If their breathing is heavy after activity, then bring them in to the vet for an exam. Heart disease is common in senior pets and can cause changes in breathing and stamina. Pets experiencing arthritic changes may also have longer recovery times after longer walks or high-intensity play such as fetch; there are dogs who will chase a ball until they drop, but be extremely sore after, so it is important to regulate your pet’s activity.
Your pet’s comfort is the most important thing to consider as they age. Arthritic changes in the joints and spine can be very uncomfortable, but thankfully there are medications to help manage your pet’s joint pain. Large breed dogs and overweight pets are more likely to suffer from arthritis. Additionally, pets who suffered injuries earlier in life may have more significant arthritic changes in those affected limbs. There are also a number of conditions affecting the eyes, ears, and mouth/teeth that can be a source of pain for pets, so it is important to watch for signs of discomfort. Here are some signs that your pet is in pain:
Reluctance to jump on furniture or into the car
Changes in body posture – arched back, uneven weight distribution
Vocalizing, whining, whimpering
Not wanting to be touched or picked up
Abnormal displays of aggression
Obsessive licking or chewing of one area
Abnormal shaking or trembling
Contact your veterinarian if you have noticed one or more of these symptoms in your pet recently.
Hearing and Vision Changes
You may notice that your pet can’t seem to hear or see as well as they get older. This can be a result of a normal aging change, but can also be due to a change in your pet’s health, so it’s best to check with the vet in the event you notice your pet not seeing or hearing as well as they used to. Because pets are far more resilient than people, they tend to adapt to not being able to see or hear more easily than we might.
Most pets adapt well to these changes, but there are circumstances in which being blind or deaf can be very scary and distressing. Safety is the biggest concern when dealing with hearing and vision changes. If you have a pool, we do not recommend leaving your visually-impaired pet outside unattended if the pool is not gated. Even pets who have lived in the same home for years may make the mistake of wandering too close to the water and fall in.
To make life easier for your pet inside the house, avoid moving furniture when possible to minimize the risk of them running into objects. Alternatively, some pieces of furniture may need to move to make a larger pathway if you always notice them bumping into the same piece of furniture.
Placing nightlights in the hallways and areas your pet spends time at night can be helpful so they can safely navigate in the dark. As pets age, their ability to see in the dark or poorly lit spaces worsens, and getting lost in the dark can be very disorienting and distressing to some pets.
If your pet has a hard time hearing, use extreme caution in off-leash situations such as dog parks where your pet cannot be voice-controlled. Leashed walks ensure that your pet stays close to you and can’t stray off where they can’t hear that they are being called back or if something, like a car, is approaching. We also recommend alerting your pet of your presence when entering a room, as some pets can be startled when touched without warning.