Just like people, pets age. And as they do their needs, nutritional requirements and activity levels change. This month’s newsletter focuses upon what to expect as your pet ages.

Pet Age
From a relative perspective, pets “age” faster than people. But the definition of a “senior” pet varies by species, breed and overall size (larger pets “age” faster). Generally, pets with seven years of age begin entering their “senior” years and require additional attention to their diet, environment and activity levels along with more frequent, preventative-focused check-ups.

Relative Age Chart

Fortunately, with proper care, pets are living longer — just like people.

Meal Nutrition
Aging pets generally require fewer calories and less fat to support their daily, less active routines. Consult a vet for more information on this vets now have the veterinary clinic management software that help them organize and book appointments better than before. Most can benefit from a revised diet that is well-balanced and specifically designed for older pets which includes:

  • Fewer calories to help control a pet’s weight and combat diabetes and obesity
  • Additional fiber (from wheat and vegetables) to promote gastrointestinal health and reduce constipation
  • Higher quality protein (often made with human-edible chicken, fish, eggs or beef) for enhanced muscle repair
  • Lower sodium to promote heart health
  • No wheat, corn, soy, meat-by-products, artificial flavors, colors or preservatives to reduce stress on the body

But be sure your pet likes their revised diet as some pets experience a reduced appetite as they age — and eating enjoyment is essential for wellness and good health. To the extent possible, try to avoid switching between dry and wet foods to maintain their dining habits.

If all else fails, home-cooked meals complete with vegetables and quality proteins (often boiled) such as turkey are appreciated and irresistible to our pets. Please contact us to discuss the ingredients that would be ideal for your pet based upon their age, breed and weight.

Senior Pets

Snacks and Supplements
Older pets can continue to receive snacks as rewards — but you should provide the low-calorie variety. Like their meals, snacks should include fiber, protein and very little fat.

Regrettably, older pets can suffer from joint pain or even arthritis which can range from moderate to severe. Beyond adjusting their diets, supplements such glucosamine or chondroitin sulfate may help alleviate some stiffness and pain.

If eating a balanced meal, most pets do not require any vitamin, fiber or related supplements. Please contact us before considering any supplements as they:

  1. Can mask underlying health issues which may require attention
  2. May not be appropriate for your pet’s current health condition

Activity Levels
Following the natural cycle, as age advances activity levels tend to decline. So regular activity is essential for the wellness and longevity of all pets — particularly older ones. Daily “play sessions,” walks and time together can stimulate the systems of the body as well as the mind.

Exercising Senior Pets

Over time don’t be surprised if pets can’t run as fast, jump as high or play as long. What’s important is that they participate daily. As the owner, it’s your responsibility to monitor their activities and to alter routines to avoid injury — particularly sprains, breaks and over-exertion.

Improving the Environment

Just as you evaluated your home before welcoming a new puppy or kitten, it’s helpful to conduct a similar assessment as your pet ages. Small changes in the environment can increase home comfort for older pets. Monitor your pet to see if they have any challenges or difficulties in and around the home. You may want to consider:

  • Carpet on stairs — preventing sliding due to a slower pace or extended nails
  • Ramps or steps to vehicles or favorite sleeping/resting locations — allowing pets to ascend and descend without falling
  • Outdoor “restrooms” closer to the home — shortening trips for pets with “urgency” issues
  • Webcams — allowing you to monitor any anxiety issues or identify environmental improvement opportunities

Senior Pet Ramps and Stairs

What to Monitor
When spending time with your pet, it’s important that you observe their behaviors apart from how you “remember” their activities. This will enable you to make an objective assessment and seek advice for anything you may find concerning. In particular, you may want to watch for:

  • Stiffness associated with your pet’s ability to get up, walk, run or jump
  • Loss of appetite or unwillingness to eat
  • Increased frequency or duration of sleep
  • Decreased desire to play or otherwise engage in physical activity
  • Increased irritability or sensitivities
  • Changes in and under the skin — feeling any growths not previously noticed
  • Reduced eye clarity and reaction to distant objects — particularly those that move
  • Inability to control their bodily fluids and movements
  • Persistent coughing, vomiting or diarrhea

For all pets (and particularly “seniors”) regular checkups are the cornerstone to managing your pet’s health. During these annual or semi-annual reviews, we’ll observe your pet, carefully examine them and ask questions about their behaviors. For older pets we’ll search for signs of cancer, heart disease, kidney/urinary tract disease, liver disease, diabetes, joint or bone disease or even senility. To help detect issues earlier, we may suggest visiting us more frequently as your pet ages.

Together, we can identify any changes and chart a positive course forward. At the end of the day, it’s all about keeping your pets healthy, engaged and happy!