Since November is National Senior Pet Month, Virginia Veterinary Centers wanted to take some time to remind pet owners about special care needed for senior pets.
Unlike humans, animals age differently based on their size. Small dogs and cats tend to start to reach senior status by the age of seven. Large dogs can have shorter lifespans, so they tend to become seniors sooner, generally around age six. However, it isn’t always easy to know when pets start to have complications due to aging. Below are a few things to be aware of that can affect pets’ health as they age:
Common Health Problems for Senior Pets
- Heart Disease
- Liver Disease
- Joint and Bone Diseases
- Kidney/Urinary Tract Diseases
These health problems can become more and more common as pets get older. While we don’t always see the signs of these conditions immediately, you may notice graying of their fur, or the fact they are slowing down during physical activity. These are indicators that your pet is reaching their senior status and may need a little more attention on their health-related needs. Keeping an eye on your pet as they start to reach the senior age is important. If you start noticing big changes in their health, diet or activity levels, it is a good idea to schedule a wellness visit with your family veterinarian.
Many of these conditions can be treated with proper veterinary care, especially if they are caught early. In some cases, medications may be enough to help your pet feel better. In other cases, your pet may need additional diagnostics, treatment or surgery.
The most important thing owners of senior pets can do to ensure that their pets are healthy is to see your family veterinarian regularly and if you notice changes in their behavior.
Most veterinarians want to see senior pets at least twice a year. Remember that your pet going in to see a veterinarian once every six months would be like you going in to see a doctor once every three to five in animal years.
Exams will change a little bit for senior pets as well. Your pet will likely have urine and bloodwork done when in for their wellness visits. Other potential workups include X-rays, ECGs, and blood pressure monitoring. Your family veterinarian will use these tests to determine if your dog or cat has any medical problems, and often anything caught early can be discussed with your veterinarian creating a plan of care for your pet’s medical needs.
Nutritional needs are also different for senior pets. Depending on their unique needs and any health problems they are facing, it may be a good idea to talk with your family veterinarian and reassess your pet’s diet. Senior pets that rapidly gain or lose weight may not be getting the proper nutrition that they need most out of their diet. Senior dogs often need food that contains fewer calories, but is full of fiber, protein, and fat. Dogs with other health problems may have different dietary needs as well depending on the conditions they face. Diets focused on nutrition for senior pets could help them to get the critical nutrition they need as they age.
Regular exercise is important for senior pets as well. Walking is a good physical activity for senior pets, also shortening your walks or going a little slower than you used to may be important things to consider as they age to avoid injury. Physical therapy is great option for pets that need additional exercise or special care during physical activity.
It may also be time to reevaluate areas of your home. Stairs and wood floors can be very hazardous for older pets. It is very likely that as your pet ages they can have a hard time with stairs and slipping on wood floors which can lead to injuries. A few easy changes can be made to adjust to their needs. Place their food and water in a location that doesn’t require your pet to struggle to reach them. Place rugs or a mat on hardwood floors where your pet likes to travel throughout your home. Additionally, the temperature in your home might be too chilly for older pets who tend to be more sensitive to the cold. Blankets and an orthopedic pet bed can also help your pet feel more comfortable in colder temperatures.
Behavior Changes in Senior Pets
As your pet ages some pets also undergo personality and behavioral changes. Behavioral changes are often the first signs of aging that pet owners notice. Some of the most common behavioral changes are:
- Increased irritability, aggression, and anxiety
- Increased reactivity to sounds
- Increased vocalization
- Increased wandering
- House soiling
- Lack of grooming
- Decreased response to commands
- Decreased interaction with humans and other animals
- Repetitive activity
- Changing sleep cycle
Although these are very common issues for senior pets, they can be very hard for pet owners to handle or accept. Your pet will need you to be extra patient with them during this time. These changes can make them uncomfortable or unsure of their normal environment causing them to be more irritable. Try to understand things from their point of view. They could be battling dementia or some other problem causing these changes in their behavior or mood. If you start to see any of the above symptoms, it is a good idea to make an appointment with your family veterinarian to see how you can help your beloved pet.
Caring for a Senior Pet
Thinking about your pet’s quality of life is important. Senior pets can still live happy, healthy lives. Changes in your pet’s routine, diet, exercise or regular health may be different than it was before. It is important to evaluate their changing needs and make adjustments to help with their comfort and medical needs as they age. Spending quality time with your pet is important no matter their age or limitations.
If you start to see that your pet’s quality of life is not what it once was, be sure to schedule a visit your family veterinarian to see what you can do to make life a little better for your senior pet.
If you believe that your senior pet is in need of rehabilitation, specialty or emergency care Virginia Veterinary Centers is available to help. Please speak to your family veterinarian about a referral to any of our three locations today.
H: Friday to Tuesday- 24 hours/Wednesday to Thursday- 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.
H: 24 hours/7 days a week
Midlothian: T: 804-744-9800
H: Saturday and Sunday- 24 hours/ Monday to Friday- 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.