Are you noticing more grey in your pet’s muzzle? Maybe their eyes are becoming cloudy, and their hearing isn’t what it used to be. These are inevitable changes as your beloved pet makes their way to senior status. While every pet is different, most tend to follow general guidelines as to when they become classified as a senior. Cats are considered seniors at 11 to 14 years of age, and become geriatric at 15 or older. Dogs are typically called seniors at 7 years of age, but larger dogs age more quickly. For example, a Great Dane is a senior at 7, while a Yorkie generally reaches middle age by the time they’re 7.
Regardless of your pet’s size and breed, they will reach senior status all too soon, but there are many ways to keep them happy and healthy throughout their golden years. Our team at Millbrae Pet Hospital has five ways to help keep your senior pet young.
#1: Keep your senior pet moving with low-impact exercise
Exercise has two key benefits: It helps your senior pet maintain a healthy weight, and it helps slow joint degeneration caused by arthritis. Walking is a great exercise that’s much lower impact than jogging or running. Pay attention to your dog when out walking, and head for home when they begin to slow. Many dogs will try to keep up with you no matter how they feel, and won’t let you know when they’ve reached their limit.
Another ideal low-impact exercise is swimming. If you have access to a pool, swimming is an excellent way to keep your pet in shape without stressing their joints. Some senior pets engage in regular hydrotherapy (i.e., an underwater treadmill) to maintain a healthy weight and joints.
Avoid exercises that can put extra pressure on your pet’s joints. Running, agility games, fetch, and pouncing on toys can be painful, so search for other activities that will keep your pet active without undue discomfort.
#2: Encourage your senior pet’s mind to remain sharp with mental stimulation
Yes, you can teach an old dog (or cat) new tricks. In fact, it’s a great way to keep them young at heart and mind. Brush up on obedience skills with your senior pet by running through their repertoire daily, and modifying more physically demanding tricks to be less rigorous. Once your pet feels comfortable with their current skill set, work on new tricks, particularly ones that build on old tricks. For example, if your pet already knows how to speak, you can teach them how to bark in a softer tone, using their “inside voice.” You also can sign your senior pet up for an obedience or tricks class. After all, learning has no age limit.
Your pet also may enjoy working for their daily meals by figuring out food puzzles. These puzzle toys, like rubber Kongs, can be stuffed with a mixture of canned or dry food, and whatever other tasty snacks your pet likes. You can freeze the concoction overnight for even longer-lasting enjoyment.
#3: Modify your home to cater to your senior pet’s mobility and comfort needs
Older dogs and cats may develop arthritis or other joint and muscular problems, which can make it harder for them to get around. Help your pet navigate your home by building ramps to get up on a favorite piece of furniture or to head outside. Ensure litter boxes are easily accessible for senior cats by switching to low-sided boxes, and place multiple options on the level of your home that your cat typically occupies. Further help your senior pet by swapping out their soft bed for a firm, orthopedic version to prevent it from sinking to the floor. To provide traction on slick floors, lay down a carpet runner, or apply a traction aid to your pet’s nails or paws.
#4: Switch to a senior pet food
The older pets get, the slower they often become. Their metabolism also typically slows down, which means they require fewer calories. Switch to a diet made specifically for senior pets because they typically have reduced calories and added nutrients designed to support joint and cognitive health. If your senior pet has a medical condition, speak to your veterinarian about the best prescription diet to help with cardiac, renal, liver, or joint disease.
#5: Schedule wellness care visits with your Millbrae Pet Hospital veterinarian
As your pet ages, routine wellness visits can provide a baseline health profile through comprehensive physical exams and screening tests. Senior pets are prone to developing health conditions that can be detected early through small changes from these baseline results. Signs of age-related diseases can be subtle, especially in the early stages, making regular exams and screening tests critical for catching diseases before they progress. Typically, we recommend that all senior pets receive wellness care at least every six months, if not more frequently, to spot abnormalities in their health profile as soon as possible.
Is your four-legged friend entering their golden years? If so, they will have different needs than they had as an adult, and more frequent wellness care can help keep them happy and healthy. Give our Millbrae Pet Hospital team a call to schedule an appointment to discuss your senior pet’s unique health care needs.