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caring for your senior pet

Senior Pet Care: The Ultimate Guide

For many of us, our pets aren’t just pets, they’re family members. They become a part of our daily routine, comfort us, experience the highs and lows of life alongside us, and ultimately love us unconditionally. 

Whether you’ve raised your pet from a puppy or kitten, or added them to the family when they were a little older, it can be a sad day when you realize they’ve reached senior status in the animal kingdom. But just because your pet’s age is a certain number, they may move a little slower, and they may have a few gray hairs, doesn’t mean they can’t still experience a healthy and fulfilling life in their golden years.

Your senior pet could experience different health needs in their older age. A lot of your pet’s needs will be dictated by type of breed, age, and pre-existing health conditions. But providing them with everything they need is easy to achieve with the right veterinary care, appropriate kinds of exercise and diet, and a whole lot of love. 

How Do I Know If My Pet Is Aging?

There are a lot of telltale signs of an aging pet. Some are obvious, and some are a little more subtle. Specific signs of aging can vary based on if your pet is a dog or cat, what breed they are, and if they’ve had any health issues or injuries in their younger years that could cause complications later in life. But the first step in understanding what signs to look for is knowing the age of your pet.

Calculating Your Pet’s Age

If you’ve had your pet since they were a puppy or kitten, chances are you know what their exact age is. But if you’ve rescued a pet once they were out of the adolescent stage, their age can feel like a guessing game. Your veterinarian can help you identify your pet’s age range if this is the case. There are also some clues that you can look for yourself!

If you’ve adopted a dog and don’t know their birth date, you can still do your best to guess their age. By the time a dog is 7 months old, their permanent teeth have come in and are shiny, white, and clean. When your dog is 1-2 years old, their teeth will look a little more dull, and their back teeth may show some yellowing. 

By the age of 3-5, tartar will start to build up, and their teeth will show more signs of wear and tear. Between the ages of 5-10 their teeth will look even more worn and may show signs of disease. Ages 10-15, your dog’s teeth are worn and most likely have heavy tartar buildup. They may even be missing some teeth at this point.

You can age your pet cat in a very similar way, but a cat’s teeth aren’t as easy to use for determining age as a dog’s teeth. It’s also important to keep in mind that cats who live outdoors show signs of aging faster than indoor-only cats. 

To get a more accurate picture of your cat’s age, it’s helpful to consult your veterinarian. They will take multiple factors into account (like their teeth, coat development, sexual maturity, and vision health) during a physical exam to age your cat. 

Look for these signs of aging in your dog

Signs of Aging in Dogs

There are many signs of aging in your dog that are both physical and mental. Some of the more common symptoms are:

  • Cloudy eyes
  • Bad breath
  • Slowing down and having difficulty moving
  • New lumps and bumps on their body
  • Sudden weight gain or weight loss
  • Incontinence
  • Fur becoming white or gray
  • Increased anxiety
  • Change in appetite
  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Significant personality changes

If you notice your dog is exhibiting any of these signs, make a list of all of the significant changes you notice and consult with your veterinarian on the best next steps.

Signs of aging in cats can look different from aging dogs

Signs of Aging in Cats

Aging in cats looks similar to aging for dogs, but not exactly the same. Some initial signs you may notice are:

  • Decrease in appetite
  • Changes in your cat’s mobility and activity levels
  • Significant personality changes
  • Appearance of gray hair
  • Thinning of their coat and skin
  • Thickening of their footpads 
  • Brittle nails
  • Constipation and incontinence 

While most of these signs of aging are normal, some such as a decreased appetite and incontinence can be signs of more serious issues. It’s best to bring your cat to the veterinarian as soon as you notice any of these signs. What may seem normal or innocent could be something more serious for any pet, whether it’s a dog or a cat.

Does My Senior Pet Need Special Care?

Say you’ve noticed common signs of aging in your older dog or cat and the vet has confirmed that your pet has entered into their official senior years. What’s next? How do you provide the best care possible for your pet during this phase?

The good news is that with the advancement of technology and veterinary medicine, our pets are able to live longer lives with us than ever before. The best path to a healthy, long life for your pet is caring for their medical needs (including preventative care), nutritional needs, and physical needs.

Vet Exams for Senior Pets

The first step in creating a health plan for your older pet is visiting the vet clinic. A veterinarian can tell a lot through a physical exam and routine blood work. 

At PetWellClinic we offer convenient wellness packages for pets that come in a variety of options. These packages are built with preventative care for your pet in mind. They can also be used to monitor your pet’s health for common chronic diseases and illnesses that they may develop later in life. 

The Complete Dog Package and the Complete Cat Package offer everything you need to know about the ins and outs of your pet’s health needs as they age. They include all of the boosters and vaccines an aging pet needs, as well as routine labs and a physical exam.

No matter which wellness package you choose, it’s important to get your senior pet’s labs done on an annual basis. There are common conditions that blood work can reveal that a physical exam could miss.

Annual visits to the vet for preventative care is crucial as your pet ages. But it’s also important to keep in mind that as your dog or cat gets older, you may find yourself frequenting the vet more than once a year. As you’re noting the signs and symptoms of aging in your pet, their health may require more frequent physical exams. The good news is that your PetWellClinic team is here to partner with you as you care for your senior pet.

Your senior pet may require a special diet to meet their nutritional needs

Nutritional Needs for Senior Pets

Something else to keep in mind for your pet is that as their medical needs change, their nutritional needs will change too. Just as we have to watch what we eat as we age, our dogs and cats will develop specific nutritional needs. 

Your veterinarian is going to be the best person to consult about the right diet for your pet. Nutritional needs are something we commonly help pet owners determine at PetWellClinic. There are numerous situations that would cause your senior pet to have special dietary requirements. 

Some general rules of thumb to keep in mind when finding the right diet for your pet:

  • Don’t cut out protein! Protein helps fuel your pet’s muscle, which becomes even more important as they get older lose muscle mass.
  • Higher caloric diets are helpful for pets who lose weight as they age. A lower calorie diet is going to help your pet shed extra weight.
  • Some pet food companies offer specific formulas for pets who live with heart disease or kidney disease.

Chances are, as your pet ages, vitamins and supplements could be a beneficial staple in their lives. Just be careful about what supplements you purchase. Before you order supplements online or buy them at your local pet store, consult your veterinarian on what they recommend. Chances are that they’ll offer veterinarian-approved supplements and vitamins. At PetWellClinic, we offer a variety of supplements that contribute to your pet’s quality of life.

Combining the right supplements with the preferred diet for your pet can go a long way in prolonging their life. If you have questions or concerns about your pet’s diet and nutrition, visit your local PetWellClinic today!

Exercise for Senior Pets

Our pets naturally slow down as they age. Sometimes conditions like arthritis and hip dysplasia can make these even more prominent for our older pets. It’s important to find the right level and kinds of activities to keep them moving in a healthy way.

The right exercise will combine low-impact physical activity with mental stimulation. Our pets can’t sit down and choose an activity that engages their mind as easily as we can. It’s up to us to help them! But what kind of activities accomplish both of these things for an older pet?

Even if your senior pet moves more slowly, there are still some basic exercises you can do to keep them healthy and happy!

Exercises for Aging Pets

  • Walking: No matter how old your pet is, the classic walk is a great option to keep them moving. You don’t have to go far. Just around the block or down the street is enough to get their legs moving and let them explore new sights, sounds, and smells.
  • Swimming: Swimming is a wonderful activity for pets who experience any kind of joint pain. It’s a safe way for your pet to move and strengthen their muscles without putting a lot of strain on their bodies.
  • Doggie Play Date: For dog owners, if you know other dogs that are a similar age to yours, plan a doggie play date! As long as the group of dogs is comfortable with the same level of activity and doesn’t have a condition that could cause them to get injured more easily in play, this is a great option to engage your pet’s body and mind.
  • Puzzle Toys: Toys that make your dog or cat engage their mind and senses can go a long way in keeping them feeling young. Check your local pet supplies store or look online for the best-rated options!

Exercise is important for our pets, no matter what their age! The above exercise options are fun and easy ways to engage your senior pet, but they aren’t the only options. If you want some specific recommendations to help tailor an exercise program, talk to your veterinarian. You may also benefit from talking to a local behaviorist or trainer who can make some personalized recommendations according to your pet’s behavioral and physical needs.

Helping Your Pet Live a Longer, Healthier Life

Focusing on a combination of your pet’s medical needs, nutritional needs, and physical needs all work together to help your pet live a quality life. Through advancements in veterinary medicine and animal behavioral studies, we know that these factors contribute to longer lives for our pets.

However, no matter how hard we try, sometimes we face bad news when it comes to our pet’s health. Sometimes a bad diagnosis is unavoidable. Sometimes our pets experience suffering that can’t be helped. As a pet owner, what do you do in that kind of situation? If your aging pet is experiencing an illness or disease that’s changed its entire life, it’s time to consider their quality of life.

Pet Quality of Life

Quality of life can look different for every pet, but ultimately it’s defined by their physical and mental well-being. The term ‘quality of life’ is often used when our pets are nearing the end of their life or dealing with a debilitating condition or disease.

If your pet is diagnosed with a disease that you know could be the cause of their death down the road, it’s important to prepare ahead of time for some of the difficult decisions you may have to make on this journey. The best way to approach this is to first make a list of all of the defining qualities of your pet’s personality. What activities have they always enjoyed? What’s their favorite food or treats? Do they have a favorite toy? Do they greet you at the door every time you come home? 

As your pet’s disease progresses, and you see their personality changing, cross specific qualities that they’ve lost off the list. Talk to your family and veterinarian about how many changes are the limit before your pet isn’t living a high quality life anymore. 

Another way to help understand your pet’s quality of life is to track your pet’s good and bad days. Is there a certain number of bad days experienced in a row that cross the line for you and your family and determine whether your pet is suffering?

According to Dr. James L. Voss at Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, there are some key questions to answer when you’re trying to assess your pet’s quality of life.

  • Is your pet eating or drinking normally?
  • Can your pet relieve itself on its own?
  • Can your pet move around on its own?
  • Is your pet interested in what’s going on around them?
  • Is your pet withdrawn or hiding most of the time?

He also suggests asking yourself some questions to keep track of your quality of life when caring for a sick pet:

  • How much of your time do you have to dedicate to caring for your sick pet?
  • Do you have real cost limits to what you can do for your pet’s medical needs and care?
  • Who else do you need to consider in your life when making decisions for your pet?
  • Who in your life can help you care for a sick pet?
  • Do you have a lot of external stresses and responsibilities that could inhibit your ability to care for your pet?

Asking yourself these questions doesn’t diminish how much you love or want to care for your pet. But they can help you evaluate your pet’s situation in the larger context of your life. If you can’t take care of yourself and all of your other important responsibilities, you’re likely struggling to give your pet the best care possible.

Keep your veterinarian up to date with the developments in your pet’s health. Consulting them on where you and your pet are on the journey can help inform the decisions you make regarding your pet’s health. If the time comes that you don’t feel you can ease your pet’s pain and suffering anymore, your veterinarian can help support your decision for humane euthanasia. 

Most full-service vet hospitals and clinics provide end of life services. Some veterinarians and organizations will even travel to your home so that your pet is surrounded by everyone and everything they love at the end of their life. While PetWellClinic does not offer end of life services, your PetWellClinic veterinarian is available to discuss options and make a recommendation.

If you have to say goodbye to your pet, it’s important to remember the amazing life that they lived with you. But it’s also important to remember that it’s okay to feel the weight of the loss and take time to grieve. Our pets are a huge part of our life, and when we lose them, it’s okay to be sad. A small comfort can often be found in the idea that they aren’t suffering anymore and loved the beautiful life that you gave them. 

Giving the Best to Your Senior Pet

Ultimately, a senior pet can add a lot of joy, love, and companionship to our lives. Whether you raised your pet from a young age, or adopted them at an older age, senior pets still have a lot of life to live. Our routines with them may just change a little bit as their needs can get more complex. 

Just remember that with the right information from your veterinarian, you can determine your senior pet’s needs at their annual vet exams, including what diet and nutrition is right for them, and what kind of exercises will keep them feeling their healthiest. Regular vet visits can also help your pet live a longer life by monitoring chronic conditions and detecting disease early.

Keep your veterinarian informed about any developments in your pet as they age in order to make the best decisions for their health and quality of life. And never forget that life with a senior pet is just a new chapter of a fun adventure with them.

PetWellClinic provides convenient, affordable veterinary care for pet owners. PetWellClinic has locations and services built with your convenience in mind. Stop by with your senior pet any time! No appointment necessary.

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