Once your dog or cat reaches the age of 7 we start to classify the following years as ‘golden years’. He / she is now a senior citizen and should be treated as such. With advances in veterinary medicine and with improved nutrition, animals are living longer and healthier lives. However, some adjustments need to be made during these years to ensure that your pet lives the final stages of its life to the fullest and is as comfortable as possible.
Species, breed, general health and individuality all play a role as to when your pet will start showing signs of ageing. Cats and Small breed dogs may live much longer than large breed dogs and as such may only start showing signs later than the 7 year mark.
Signs to be alert for are similar to ageing in humans; their hair turns grey, their bodies are not as supple and reflexes are not as sharp. Their sight, hearing, attention span, energy levels and sense of smell may deteriorate. Most often the first sign that is noticed is that they are ‘slowing down’ and sleeping more often.
Once these signs are noted the following adjustments should be made:
- Twice yearly check-ups at the vet instead of an annual check-up. A thorough examination twice yearly will help to detect any problems hopefully before they become too serious. Special attention is given to diagnosing arthritis and dental disease as these are more common in the senior years. Full senior health checks are offered by both our clinics and are recommended annually. These include a thorough physical exam, urine tests, faecal tests and blood tests. We then have a consultation to discuss our findings and make recommendations that will help keep your pet comfortable and healthy and extend his/her life. These tests are a set price and are discounted to make them more affordable. Studies show that 1 in 3 pets who seem perfectly healthy actually have an underlying or silent disease or the start of a kidney/liver/hormonal problem. In the very early stages the only way to pick these up are the test mentioned above. Help us help your pet live longer by doing his/her twice yearly check-ups and a Senior health check annually.
- Now is the time to change them over to a senior diet. As they get older their nutritional needs will change. Often they have reduced activity and their metabolism’s slow down causing them to gain weight. Excess weight is life threatening and must be controlled. Senior diets help with weight control, they also have increased antioxidants to keep your pet’s immune system healthy and added glucosamine and chondroitin for healthy joints. Other nutrients have also been adjusted to help with maintaining a healthy gut and beautiful skin and coat. They are made to be very palatable to accommodate any decrease in sense of taste and smell. Speak to us about the best food for your animal at this stage.
- Monitor closely for any changes in your animals behaviour and inform your vet promptly of these changes. The following are important to look out for :
o Stiffness in the morning or after sleeping, in cold weather, or during/after exercise
o Difficulty standing up, or getting up or down stairs
o Crying out
o Playing less
o Sleeping more
o Tiring more easily/quickly during a walk
o Seeming wobbly in the hind legs
o Drinking more than normal, or more than your other pets
o Urinating more that used to
o Needing to go out at night to urinate
o Change in appetite
o Weight change (loss/gain)
o Change in stool (loose/hard, abnormal)
o Muscle tremors
o Coughing at night
o Disorientation/ Staring blankly
o Bad breath
- The general comfort of your pet also needs re-adjusting. Does he/she have soft, warm bedding? Are they sheltered? Can he/she get to the food or water bowl easily? Can they get to the garden/litter box quickly and easily? Are they still enjoying their long walks or should the length be adjusted? Are they slipping on the tiles/ wooden flooring? Are they still managing the stairs?
Making sure that your pet is as comfortable as possible as he/she gets older will improve their quality of life tremendously.
As with all age groups it is important to keep your pets vaccinations up to date. Remember to do 3 monthly de-worming and monthly tick and flea control.
Remember to look after your pet’s oral health by brushing teeth as often as possible, or using other products such as oral rinse/ dental chews to keep the mouth and gums healthy. A professional dental may be recommended at your pet’s regular check-up.