We can’t stop the inevitable process of our pets getting older, but we can help our animals achieve wellness through each phase of life.
As our pets enter their elderly years, we can take measures to improve their quality of life.
- Perhaps the most important step in promoting health is making sure they have proper nutrition. Feed them high-quality foods which meet their nutritional needs through all stages of life. Consult your veterinarian to discuss which foods are most appropriate for your animal’s unique constitution and circumstance.
- Take your animal to the vet for a complete physical at least once a year, or twice-a-year for older animals. Routine checks can assist in catching problems at an early stage, when illness may be easier to treat. We like Ben Franklin’s old adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Discuss preventive health measures with your vet and adopt a proactive approach to your animal’s care.
- Periodontal disease is a common ailment among older cats and dogs. Inflamed gums can be very uncomfortable for your pet, and can affect their eating habits. Poor oral health can also lead to more serious problems with the joints, heart, kidneys, and intestinal tract. Prevention is key. Dental checkups and professional teeth cleanings are an important part of your animal’s wellness program. At home, you can help by brushing your animal’s teeth and gums with a veterinary-approved toothpaste.
- Obesity is one of the major problems facing older dogs and cats today. Dogs and cats require weight management in order to stay mobile, which is crucial to their well-being. Obese pets are more likely to suffer from arthritis because of the excess weight they carry places stress on the joints. Good nutrition and exercise are instrumental in keeping your canine or feline friend trim. Don’t feed your pet fatty table scraps. A high-fat diet not only contributes to obesity but can cause Pancreatitis, a serious inflammatory condition.
- You may notice your older dog is content to stay indoors and sleep all day in his comfy bed. While it’s expected that your dog will slow down in his later years, he should still receive regular exercise. Taking your elderly dog for a gentle walk every day keeps his muscles toned and his mind engaged.
- Often the first signs of aging are aches and pains. Your dog or cat may be slow to stand up, exhibit stiffness, or he may even limp after lying down for long periods. These may be signs of arthritis or a musculoskeletal problem and should be looked at by your veterinarian. If your cat or dog has arthritis, take care to provide a padded, warm bed for them to lie on. Cover cold, hard floors so that they can walk more easily in the house.
- Consult your veterinarian for ways to decrease pain, increase mobility, and improve quality of life. Sometimes pain medications are necessary. Complementary therapies like acupuncture and natural medicine are gaining popularity and can decrease pain and inflammation. Sometimes an integrative approach (using both western medicine and holistic treatments) is the best option.
- Remember to watch your elderly dog more carefully at off-leash sites. Older dogs may have diminished eyesight and hearing and can become disoriented more easily. Stay close to your dog or keep him on a leash so that he doesn’t get lost or wander into traffic.
- Get in the habit of regularly massaging your animal. Older dogs and cats may find it especially soothing to their muscles and joints. You can do this by rubbing their coat and skin with your fingers and smoothing over their ears, neck, chest, belly, legs, and paws. This practice also allows you to monitor their health by checking for anything abnormal such as lumps, heat, or areas of tenderness.
- Make sure you have your dog or cat’s claws regularly trimmed once or twice a month. Keeping their nails short improves their traction and decreases the chance of falling or getting their claws snagged in the carpet. Nonskid dog boots are also available to decrease falls on slick floor surfaces.