Senior Pet Care: How to Care for Your Elderly Dog or Cat
Keeping your pet happy and healthy for a lifetime is truly gratifying, especially as they enter their senior years. Like us, dogs and cats can develop various age-related conditions, such as cataracts, hearing loss, arthritis, and overall cognitive decline. But while they can be more prone to disease and injury in their old age, senior pets can still live a full and active life.
The key to giving your senior pet a good quality of life during their golden years is to make sure they continue to get the proper care. The kind of care your pet needs as a senior will differ from the care they received as a young adult. To learn more about senior pet care, check out the rest of our article!
What is a Senior Pet?
There is no one exact age at which all pets become seniors. Every dog and cat will age a little differently and reach their senior stage of life at a slightly different time. The American Animal Hospital Association states that based on prior studies, cats can become seniors anywhere between 7 and 11 years old. Dogs fall into a similar range, depending on their size, breed, and other factors. In AAHA’s Senior Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats, the task force designates senior dogs and cats as those that are in the last 25% of their predicted lifespan.
Common Health Conditions Seen in Senior Dogs and Cats
Dogs and cats might age a lot faster than humans do, but they often experience many of the same health issues as they grow older.
Some of these issues include:
- Vision loss
- Hearing loss
- Cognitive dysfunction
- Congestive heart failure
- Liver and kidney disease
While not all of these issues can be prevented, there are ways your veterinarian can work with you to minimize their impact and make your pet’s condition more manageable. Blue Cross Pet Hospital is equipped to diagnose and treat a variety of internal medical conditions, along with cancer.
Keeping your dog or cat healthy and happy throughout their puppy/kitten years and adult years should serve them well into their senior years and reduce both the number and severity of any conditions they experience.
The Importance of Regular Wellness Exams and Lab Tests for Senior Pets
Because senior pets can experience rapid changes in their health, regular wellness exams are essential to catching early signs of disease. Just 1 year for a dog or cat is about the equivalent of 7 human years. For this reason, we sometimes recommend seeing our senior patients every 6 months, instead of once a year, so we can monitor their condition more closely. If we detect a potential disease or other issue during their checkup, we can work with you to tailor a treatment plan for your pet.
What We Check for During a Senior Wellness Exam
Here are some of the things we look for during a senior pet exam:
- Abnormal weight loss or weight gain
- Conformation changes
- Lumps and bumps under the skin
- Changes in the quality of the coat, skin, and nails
- Change in lymph nodes and thyroid
- Hydration status
- Size and shape of liver, kidneys, and other abdominal organs
- Vitals (pulse, respiration, and even blood pressure since hypertension occurs in pets and can be treated if detected early)
- Dental disease
- Evidence of vision and hearing loss
- Stiffness or pain in the limbs/joints as well as back or neck pain
- Loss of muscle mass
- Otoscopic exam to check for ear infections, ear polyps, and ear foreign bodies
- Skin disorders such as allergies, infections, or external parasites such as fleas
- Eye disorders like cataracts, glaucoma ,infections, or allergies
- Rectal exam for dogs to check the prostate, anal glands, and rectal /anal growths
Baseline Lab Work
We recommend routine lab work for senior dogs and cats as an additional means of monitoring their health and any chronic conditions they might have. These tests may include:
- CBC (complete blood count)
- Fecal analysis
- Blood glucose
- Calcium and protein
- Chemistries to check liver and kidney function, electrolytes, diabetes, and protein levels
- Thyroid levels which can be reduced in older dogs or elevated in older cats
- Viral testing for cats for feline leukemia virus and feline aids virus
- Heartworm and tick titer testing, like Lymes disease, in dogs
- Urinalysis for kidney function, infections, protein or crystals
If necessary, we may also recommend radiographs or other imaging to further evaluate your pet.
We can update your pet’s vaccination schedule to accommodate their changing needs, as well. Cats and dogs should continue to be vaccinated even as they age.
Fleas, ticks, heartworms, and intestinal worms are still a threat, so keeping your senior pet on preventatives year-round is imperative. Infestations are not the only health concern; life-threatening disease is also possible, with Lyme disease (transmitted by deer ticks), heartworm disease (transmitted by mosquitoes) and Mange (transmitted by Mites) being just some examples. Blue Cross Pet Hospital carries a wide range of high-quality pest preventatives for dogs and cats of every size.
Tips to Keep Your Senior Pet Comfortable and Healthy at Home
Your senior pet’s care ultimately begins at home. Here are some tips to make their homelife comfortable, safe, and enjoyable.
Modify Their Environment
As your pet’s body changes, their environment may need to be modified to accommodate any physical difficulties they have so they can still get around. Little changes like this can make all the difference in the world for your senior pet and increase the quality time they get to share with you and your family.
- Placing runners on slick floors can improve your pet’s traction and prevent injury. It also ensures your pet’s continued access to various parts of the house.
- Ramps are helpful for pets that love to cuddle on the couch or share the bed. They can also enable your pet to continue using the stairs.
- Elevate your pet’s food and water bowls so they don’t have to bend their heads down to eat and drink.
- Make sure your pet’s bed is thick and soft so it can provide enough cushioning for their bones and joints.
Keep Pain Under Control
Blue Cross Pet Hospital can provide a tailored pain management protocol for your pet if they are living with chronic, debilitating pain. Arthritis is common among dogs and cats, but it does not have to prevent your pet from enjoying a good quality of life in their golden years. NSAID’s (anti-inflammatory medications), pain medication, prescription strength glucosamine and even the new monthly monoclonal antibody arthritis injection for cats called Solensia. In addition to medication, we can also offer laser therapy treatments to relieve pain and inflammation.
Daily, Low-Impact Activity
Movement is critical to your pet’s health and quality of life. Consistent, low-impact exercise can help to maintain their mobility and range of motion and prevent them from gaining weight. You can opt for leisurely 20-minute walks every day, or even every other day. It all depends on your pet’s unique needs. When in doubt, talk to your vet for recommendations!
Change in Diet
The nutritional needs of senior dogs and cats differ from the needs of adult pets. Blue Cross Pet Hospital can help guide you in choosing the most appropriate diet for your pet’s age and medical needs. There are many different diets available for the management of chronic diseases like heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes. We also want to make sure your dog or cat is getting the nutrients they require, while keeping their weight under control. Certain food ingredients can increase your pet’s risk for obesity and other health issues.
Contact Us About Your Senior Pet’s Care
Our animal hospital in North Hollywood, CA is equipped to provide personalized, life-long care to pets of all ages. Senior dogs and cats are special to us, and we want them to enjoy their golden years with their loving families. If you have any questions or concerns about your senior pet’s health or current treatment regimen, please contact Blue Cross Pet Hospital at (818) 980–1313.