Caring for an older pet
By Dr. William L. Amoroso III, DVM – Falls Road Veterinary Clinic
For most of us, few things in life are as satisfying as the loving companionship our pets provide and by now, your older pet has become a real member of the family. No one likes to watch their pets age, but there’s no reason to feel powerless. By knowing what to look for and with proper care your furry family member can live many more happy, healthy years.
One of the things that you can do to help ensure that your pet will stay healthy is to assess the varying risk factors that different animals face as they age. Risk factors are characteristic of your pet’s background, environment or life style which put him or her at greater risk of developing various diseases or old-age changes. Some of these factors cannot be controlled, like the inherited predisposition of some breeds to certain diseases. Others, however, like activity level, living conditions, quality of medical care, and level of nutrition, can all be controlled by the owner. Below are a list of some of the major risk factors facing most animals, but you should always check with your vet to make sure that there aren’t any particular risks that you should look out for with your pet.
As your pets age their bodies slow down. This includes their metabolism, their immune system, and their internal organs. Therefore, medical problems and conditions which didn’t affect your pet while it was younger may now arise.
As your pet’s metabolism slows down it can trigger a couple of things. First, be sure to watch for obesity. The combination of slower metabolism and lower activity level can produce an overweight animal very easily. Obesity is unhealthy in any pet, but is especially harmful to the “senior” by putting additional stress on joints, the heart and other organs. Slower metabolism also means a decrease in the production of a type of hormone which regulates body temperature. As a result older animals often have an intolerance for heat and cold.
The slowing of the immune system also brings with it many health hazards. Older animals often lose their teeth and develop gum infections. While tooth loss can make chewing difficult, gum infections can pose a serious problem with an immune system compromised by age. Brushing your animals teeth with a special pet toothpaste might help to reduce the likelihood of this. The skin is also affected by a slower immune system with tumors within and under the skin becoming more likely.
The internal organs of your pet have been working a long time and it’s important to monitor them as your pet ages. Be sure to watch out for such things as heart problems in dogs and kidney problems in cats. Adjusting your pet’s diet to a “senior” food can help prevent problems by adjusting for the changes in nutrient level that your older animal now requires.
Other things to be aware of as your pet ages is a diminishing of the senses. Sight, smell, taste, and hearing all start to fade as time goes by. Also be aware that if your pet has not been neutered earlier in life problems with various reproductive organs may occur. Infections of the uterus and breast tumors occur with intact female cats and dogs. Males frequently develop infections or tumors of the prostate.
Don’t let all these things frighten you, however, for you can do many things to help keep your pet healthy and happy for a long time. The following suggestions are all things that you can do to help lengthen and improve the quality of your pet’s life as it ages.
• Balance your pet’s activity level and food intake to avoid excess weight gain. Your veterinarian can recommend exercise and a diet which is appropriate for your particular pet.
• Keep your pet’s living and sleeping areas clean, dry and warm at all times. If you have several pets make sure your “senior” pet has ample opportunity to eat and drink without having to compete with younger animals.
• Consistently check the mouth for reddened gums, loose teeth or unusual swellings of any kind. Check eyes for redness, unusual cloudiness, discomfort or discharge.
• Thoroughly groom and inspect your older pet regularly so that you will notice any unusual sores, rashes, lumps, parasites, discharges or other physical changes.
• If your pet has impaired eyesight, avoid moving furniture or other objects around. In general, older pets seem to do better when their lives follow a consistent routine.
• Try and note whether your cat or dog is having regular bowel movements and is urinating normally.
• If you notice increased water drinking or unusually large or small volumes of urine passed for 24 hours or more, consult your veterinarian.
• Regular check-ups are a good idea for older animals. If you see a change in you pet’s appearance or behavior see your veterinarian without delay. Small problems can quickly become bigger ones in older pets.
Pets today, like people, are living longer and healthier lives than ever before. Keeping your older pet happy and healthy is just a matter of proper exercise, home care, check-ups, and nutrition. Add all that together with a large amount of love and your pet can hope to enjoy its golden years for many more years to come.
This page last updated 3-17-09