Health & Wellness
Getting older isn’t always easy, and our pets age so much more quickly than we do. Just like with people, animals can experience more health problems as they age. In order to catch these problems earlier and even prevent them when possible, it’s important to be proactive about your senior dog’s quality of life and healthcare.
Fetch Veterinary Advisory Board member, Founder of Senior Dog Revolution, Co-Founder of Pet Loss Community and senior pet expert Dr. Monica Tarantino shares how you can work with your veterinarian to do just that.
Cats are considered seniors between ages 8-10 years old. Large and giant breed dogs may be seniors as early as 6 and smaller breed dogs are seniors between 7-10 years old. “Most senior pets should go to the vet every 6 months, sometimes more frequently depending on their medical needs,” says Dr. Tarantino.
A lot can change with your pet’s health in a few months. More frequent vet visits give you and your vet the chance to discuss new issues and lab work that may be needed. Lab work is important to screen for changes, monitor previous abnormalities and to make sure your pet is tolerating any chronic medication they are taking.
“There are many changes that senior pets will experience,” Dr. Tarantino says. “Senior dogs are more prone to disease as they get older, which is why finding a vet you like and that understands your pet is so important.”
Preventive care is still a mainstay of your senior’s health. Whether it’s parasite prevention, nutrition, exercise or grooming, your pet will still need regular attention in these areas as they age. “This means keeping up with important things like dental cleanings, lab work checks, vaccines, medications as needed and physical exams,” says Dr. Tarantino. Your senior shouldn’t stop taking parasite prevention (including heartworm prevention) recommended by your vet just because they are getting older.
When it comes to diet, your vet can advise you if you need to make a change. Diets formulated for senior dogs often are reduced in calories and may have added ingredients to help support the body as it ages. “There is no regulation for what constitutes a 'senior pet diet' on the market so even if your pet is a senior — a senior pet diet may not be right for them,” says Dr. Tarantino. “Many senior pets will do well on the same diets they have been on and many will develop conditions that require different prescription diets to help target those conditions as recommended by your vet.”
Exercise may change for your senior pet as well. Staying active can help support a healthy weight and muscle mass, and it’s good for the rest of the body too. “The trick is exercising consistently and within moderation for their health level, “ Dr. Tarantino says. “Remember that consistent daily activity is far better than being a 'weekend warrior' when it comes to your pets. This should include mental stimulation too!”
As a pet ages, their mobility may change. This can happen as the result of arthritis, a previous injury, obesity, neurologic conditions, pain and other causes. Although it’s easy to assume that changes with your senior pet are just “old age,” it’s best to discuss any changes you notice with your vet. “Many senior pets will lose hearing and have visual deficits in addition to diseases of chronic pain so monitoring them closely at home is important,” says Dr. Tarantino
Pets who can’t move around as well may become much more sedentary. Some animals will have trouble getting up or even slip on certain surfaces. Your vet can help assess a change in mobility and prescribe medication, a weight loss plan or physical therapy if needed.
Senior pets can benefit from ramps or stairs to make getting up and down easier, or providing non-slip surfaces like mats or toe grips. “Monitoring for signs of chronic pain and making accommodations around the home with things like ramps, carpets over slippery floors, comfy beds throughout the home and even low light to help them with vision at night can be helpful,” says Dr. Tarantino.
One of the most important factors of being a pet parent is quality of life for both you and your senior pet. “Most pet parents love their golden years with their senior pets because their pets are at an age where they know how things operate and really embrace the finer things in life like quality time and routines with their owners,” says Dr. Tarantino.
But being a pet parent to a senior pet can also bring about more difficult feelings. This is a very common occurrence because seniors are more prone to injury and illness, and we worry about losing them. “Do your best and be easy on yourself. Guilt and anticipatory grief are so common among senior pet parents who are doing everything they can for their beloved pet,” says Dr. Tarantino.
Senior pets have different needs than younger animals, but together you and your veterinarian can make sure your senior pet has all the support and care they need to live the happiest life possible for as long as possible.
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