We know they say age is just a number, but that number does matter for dogs and cats. That’s because unlike people, they can’t tell us that their memories are fading, they’re having trouble hearing or seeing, or their stomachs aren’t handling their food as well as they used to. So once pets reach a certain age, we need to adjust their care to account for those needs. September is Senior Pet Wellness Month, making it a good time to talk about how to support the needs of our furry family members as they age.
First, let’s talk about what those numbers are. For dogs, it varies based on their size! Veterinary professionals generally consider small, medium, and large dogs seniors by around 7 years of age, with giant breed dogs hitting the senior mark a bit sooner, around 5 or 6. Cats 10 and older are members of the senior club.
There are plenty of ways that you as a pet parent can help your older dog or cat stay healthy and happy in their golden years.
- Invest in routine care: Senior pets, like pets of all ages, need checkups to ensure their bodies are continuing to function normally. Prevention and early detection are still any animal’s best path to good health, so your veterinarian may recommend semi-annual visits to catch any signs of disease earlier and monitor for common age-related illnesses.
- Pay attention to pounds: Aging pets may already be dealing with less-than-perfect organ function and sore joints from arthritis or injuries in their younger days, so adding extra weight can put them under even more stress and at higher risk of serious illness or injury. Additionally, they may not be able to digest or metabolize their food as they used to. Your veterinarian can advise on dietary or exercise changes to help your older pet stay fit and trim.
- Environmental enrichment: Keeping your pet’s mind active is just as important as maintaining a healthy body. Pets can experience cognitive dysfunction and dementia just like humans can, so new toys, puzzles, games, and tricks can provide stimulation for their brains.
Like pet parents, senior pets are at higher risk for a few different illnesses and injuries than their younger friends, including cancer, kidney or liver disease, arthritis, heart disease, urinary tract issues, and diabetes. The American Veterinary Medical Association has a comprehensive guide to senior pet care that we’d highly recommend to any pet parent whose dog or cat is approaching – or firmly in – senior territory.
Just because the number of candles on their birthday cake goes up, it doesn’t mean their quality of life has to go down. Understanding your senior pet’s body and mind, adjusting for their needs accordingly, and getting them veterinary attention when necessary can help you enjoy your time together, for as long as possible.
If, of course, you think your pet’s quality of life is declining or has been low for some time, it may be time to consider end-of-life care. This is never an easy discussion, but your veterinarian can help you recognize when your pet’s bad days begin to outnumber their good ones.
If your senior pet needs an exam or you have questions about any new behaviors or changes you’ve noticed in them, contact us at 908-232-1048 to schedule an appointment at either our Westfield or Union locations. Our Union emergency service is open seven days a week, 365 days a year, from 7 am – 7 pm.