6 Simple Things You Can do To Make Life Easier for Your Aging Pet
Older pets have different health and medical challenges than their younger counterparts. Both cats and dogs, for example, are more prone to developing joint and bone disease, heart disease, cancer, kidney and urinary tract disease, liver disease and diabetes—all of which can make them uncomfortable and anxious.
But here's the bottom line: you don't love your cat or dog one bit less because of his age—in fact, you probably love him more for all the years of pleasure and companionship he's given you. That means you'll do everything in your power to ensure his "golden years" are peaceful, safe and pain-free.
Pets Are Living Longer Than They Used To
Recent advances in veterinary science coupled with a better understanding of our pets' nutritional needs mean that there are a lot more aging pets than there once were, pets with special needs and challenges. As the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) notes:
"Due to improved veterinary care and dietary habits, pets are living longer now than they ever have before. One consequence of this is that pets, along with their owners and veterinarians, are faced with a whole new set of age-related conditions. In recent years there has been extensive research on the problems facing older pets and how their owners and veterinarians can best handle their special needs."
How Old Is "Old?"
Every animal is different and ages differently. In general, larger breeds tend to have shorter lives than smaller ones. That said, there are some general assumptions you can make based on your pet's age.
For example, in general a 10-year old cat is the equivalent of a 63-year old person. If your cat is 15, he's about the same as a person at 78. For small breed dogs, age 10 is about the same as a person aged 56-60. For larger breeds, 10 years of age is the equivalent of human ages 66 to 78. Regarding care, think of it like this:i f you have a 10-year old large breed dog, expect him to have the same mobility and health challenges of a person who's almost 80 years old.
Are There Things You Can Do to Make Life Easier for Your Aging Pet?
The simple answer is "yes." Of course, if your pet is beginning to exhibit signs of illness or injury (things like confusion, disorientation, irritability, aggression, house soiling, difficulty walking and changes in sleep cycles), you should take him to your family veterinarian as soon as possible to find and treat the cause.
That said, here are 6 things you can do to improve the qualify of your aging pet's life:
Give him daily exercise and keep his weight within the normal range: getting enough exercise will improve your pet's mobility—and it's critically important to maintaining good health. Take your dog for a daily walk or play with him in the yard. For cats, buy interactive toys (like wand toys) and make sure he gets at least 10 minutes of sustained exercise every day.
READ MORE: 8 Ways to Exercise Your Dog This Winter
Make sure you're meeting his nutritional needs: that means reading the label on the pet foods you buy to make sure they contain healthy ingredients, just as you would for the foods you buy for yourself and your family. Ensuring proper nutrition can be complicated, and it's different depending on your pet's current health status. To be safe, tell your veterinarian what you're feeding you pet—she can give you good advice and guidance to keep your cat or dog heathy.
Promote proper dental care: if you think keeping your pet's teeth and gums healthy doesn't matter—think again. Proper dental care is no less important for your pet than for you. A simple act like brushing his teeth a few times a week can destroy potentially harmful bacteria that could lead to serious health conditions down the road. When you brush, be sure to use pet enzyme toothpaste and a toothbrush designed for pets.
Take him to the vet for regular checkups and to keep vaccinations current: the older your pet, the weaker his immune system, making him more prone to disease and infection. Make sure that his vaccinations are up to date and that your vet examines him regularly. For older pets, that means checkups at least twice a year.
Make special accommodations in your home: older cats, for example, might have more trouble getting into the litter box, so get one with lower sides. For older dogs you might want to install ramps so he doesn't need to negotiate stairs. For both dogs and cats, it's a good idea to elevate food and water bowls so they don't need to bend as much.
Think "kindness first:" older pets are more easily startled and agitated (sometimes due to the onset of senility). That means you need to be more patient than you would be with younger dogs. Don't scold them, for example, if they soil inside the house. Take it slow when introducing new people—or new pets—into their lives. Taking your time with your aging pet will improve the quality of his life, and yours.
READ MORE: Caring For Your Senior Pet: A Checklist
Living with an older pet can be challenging, of course—but it can also be among the most fulfilling experiences you'll ever have. The added attention you give them to accommodate their special needs will strengthen the bond, and the love, between you and make both of your lives better.
At South Boston Animal Hospital, we understand the special needs aging pets have and can give you sound guidance and advice to give them the care they need. To learn more about our veterinary services, or to schedule an appointment, contact us today.
About Dr. Natalie Waggener
Dr. Natalie Waggener has 17 years of experience in emergency work and general practice in Rhode Island, Florida and Massachusetts. She has a special interest in dentistry, wellness care and rehabilitation therapy. She is currently licensed in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.