Advances in veterinary care and improvements in nutrition and other care are now allowing pets to live longer than ever before, but that doesn’t change the fact that dogs and cats typically reach senior status between the ages of six and seven. Large breed dogs may be considered senior even sooner. This means that older pets are now developing more of the same problems that are present in humans, as they age. Pets, too, can suffer from cancer, heart disease, kidney and urinary tract diseases, diabetes, and even senility.
As a responsible pet parent, you should consult your veterinarian about how to best care for your furry friends and to prepare for possible health issues that develop with age. Your pet’s veterinarian is in the best position to advise advise you about the individual needs of your pet.
However, the American Veterinarian Medical Association (AVMA) also wants to help you keep your older pets happy and healthy as they enter their golden years. Accordingly, they offer the following tips to get you started:
- Increase your veterinary visits. Older pets should be taken to the veterinarian twice a year, instead of only once a year. Semi-annual visits will allow your veterinarian to detect and treat any signs of illness early. Senior pet exams are even more thorough than those administered to younger pets.
- Look out for changes in behavior. Before any medical symptoms appear, behavioral changes can provide signs that something is changing in your older pet. If you notice a change in behavior in your aging pet, you should contact your veterinarian and provide them with a list of changes. Examples of behavior changes include confusion, decreased interaction with humans, house soiling, changes in sleep cycles, and more.
- Watch your pet’s weight. Dogs and cats face opposite weight-related problems in old age. Overweight older dogs are at increased risk of health problems. Weight loss is the chief cause for concern for felines.
- Consider modifying your pet’s diet and nutrition. As your pet ages, you will probably need to change their food. Your senior pets may need easily digestible foods or foods with different calorie levels and ingredients that include anti-aging nutrients.
- Keep your pet physically active. Just as with older humans, it is very important to keep your senior pets moving. Maintaining mobility through appropriate exercise will help keep them healthier.
- Stimulate your pet’s mind. It is just as important to keep your pet mentally active. Even pets can show signs of senility. It is important to stimulate them through activities. When leaving a pet home alone, you can leave a food puzzle toy for your pet to play with. Food puzzle toys will require time, patience, and problem-solving abilities to solve.
- Neuter or spay your pet if you haven’t already. Dogs and cats that have not been neutered or spayed have a higher risk of developing uterine, ovarian, testicular, and prostate diseases.
The AVMA has been making sure our pets get the best care for over 150 years. You can find even more great information on how to care for your senior pets at the AVMA website.