How to care for an elderly pet

How to care for an elderly pet

Alan/Flickr Image by: Alan/Flickr Author: Canadian Living


How to care for an elderly pet

Pet lovers want the best for their four-legged friends, but many owners don’t realize that dogs and cats require additional medical care after they reach senior status. Dr. Nicole Gallant, a veterinarian in Kensington, P.E.I., and the president of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, says felines reach old age around eight years, while the age at which a dog is deemed elderly varies, depending on the lifespan of the breed. “Smaller breeds, like the Chihuahua, will live longer, on average, than a larger breed, such as the Great Dane,” she says. The longer the lifespan of the breed, the later in life the dog is considered senior—as early as five years for large dogs and as late as 10 years for small dogs.

Once your dog or cat reaches this milestone, there are steps you can take to help keep your aging furry friend healthy longer. Follow these five tips for prolonging your senior pet’s good health.

1. Book regular checkups
Dogs and cats require regular wellness checkups to screen for illnesses such as diabetes, liver disease and kidney disease. “As your pet gets older, have basic blood work done to see if changes are starting to happen,” says Dr. Gallant. “Some people get frustrated if blood work comes back normal, but normal is good because it gives you something to compare to next year.” Having a baseline for your aging pet’s health can help diagnose future conditions as they arise.

2. Make oral care a priority
Older pets are prone to tooth and gum problems that could lead to periodontal disease. “Dogs don’t usually get cavities like humans; plaque and gingivitis make them lose their teeth,” says Dr. Gallant. “Cats get erosions at the gum line.” Left untreated, the bacteria that cause gum disease can also create health issues elsewhere in the body, such as the arteries and kidneys.

Stay on top of your pet’s oral health before gum disease becomes a problem. “Ideally, you’ll brush your pet’s teeth every day, but there are foods that also help decrease plaque buildup,” says Dr. Gallant. If periodontal disease does take hold, your pet may have to undergo a deep cleaning, performed by your vet, or have teeth removed.

3. Pay close attention to diet
“The most common problem with aging pets is excess weight,” says Dr. Gallant. Like people, pets slow down as they get older. Lack of exercise, in combination with overeating, can result in unnecessary weight gain. “Keeping your pet’s weight under control is important for the prevention of cardiac problems,” says Dr. Gallant. To keep your aging pet’s weight in check, your vet may recommend a low-calorie pet food specially formulated for seniors.

Specialty pet foods can also help control medical conditions common to senior cats and dogs. If your pet’s wellness tests reveal the beginning signs of diabetes or kidney disease, feeding a diet suited to your pet’s condition won’t cure the disease but can slow down its progression, says Dr. Gallant.

4. Schedule time for exercise
The old adage “If you don't use it, you'll lose it” can apply to animals, too. Gentle, routine exercise, such as fast-paced walking or playtime, can help keep muscles strong, circulate blood to the joints and promote flexibility in the ligaments and tendons. It can also help maintain a healthy weight and aid in cardiovascular wellness. “If your pet has good muscle tone and exercised all its life, it will be fitter and better able to adapt to old age,” says Dr. Gallant.

5. Monitor behavioural changes
Owners know their pets better than anyone else. “Normal for one pet is not necessarily normal for another. You know how your dog or cat normally acts,” says Dr. Gallant. If you notice that your pet is behaving differently—not eating, struggling to get up or play, drinking too much water or urinating frequently—mention it to your vet. These changes could indicate arthritis, kidney problems or diabetes. Being aware means you’ll be able to provide your pet with the care it needs to maintain its quality of life. 

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How to care for an elderly pet