Written by Dr. Laurel Williams.
The age at which a pet is considered a senior varies according to the breed, but 7 years is the age commonly believed to be when our pets enter the senior years. This is a difficult time for most pet owners, myself included, as both my cats are 12 years old. But there are a few things that we can do to ensure that the senior years are quality years for our pets.
Many pets appear to slow down as they get older, this may however not always be normal. The adage “you don’t slow down as you grow older, but you grow older when you slow down” is also true for your pet. A pet that is beginning to slow down, may be doing so secondary to the pain of osteoarthritis. So your pet may benefit from supplements such as glucosamine or pain medication or laser therapy to provide some comfort. Your veterinarian can best advise following a complete exam of your pet. Keeping your dog’s nails short and providing non-slippery surfaces such as area rugs on a tiled, hard-wood or other slippery floors are things that you can do at home to assist with your dog’s mobility. Cats can get arthritis too. So for senior cats it may be helpful to provide shallow litter-boxes so that your pet has an easier time getting in and out of the box. Also consider placing a litterbox on the same level that your senior cat spends much of its time. This will reduce the distance they would have to walk to the litterbox.
As your pet gets older, you should prevent weight gain, as an overweight pet will have a hard time with arthritis. Regular exercise for dogs is recommended, but this should take the form of leisurely walks, allow your pet to set the pace. High impact exercise, involving jumping or acrobatics, is discouraged for the senior dog.
The senior pet is also at increased risk for developing heart, kidney, or thyroid diseases and cancers. For early detection it is a good idea to have your veterinarian perform wellness blood-tests periodically during the senior years; this way any abnormality can be found and treated, allowing you quality extra time with your senior pet.
You can monitor your pet at home for changes in behaviour- such as eating, drinking, and bathroom habits or for signs of confusion. Also check your pets’ body frequently for any lumps or bumps. Any changes in the above behaviour or any lumps or bumps should be checked by your veterinarian.
Having your pet live a full and quality life should always be the goal, and these are just some of the tips that you can put in place to help your senior pet. Start by scheduling a visit with your veterinarian.