Is your pet over 6 years old?
While no one wants to think of their pet as ‘senior’ or ‘elderly’, your pet now may be at the age where they require extra support for their comfort. At this age providing them with nutritional support best suited or senior pet’s need is essential to maintaining their overall health and well-being. The good news is that there is extensive research into the problems which face older pets and how their owners and veterinarians can best handle their special needs.
We have listed some points below so you can determine if your pet is entering into their golden years. If you answer yes to these questions we highly recommend you talk to us to ensure their changes needs are being meet.
- Has their behaviour changed or are they interacting less with your family
- Are they sleeping, eating or drinking more / less than usual
- Has their weight changed
- Are they having accidents indoors
- Do they tire easily or lag behind while on walks
- Do they have difficulty jumping or climbing
- Are they easily frightened or have difficultly with their sight or hearing
- Has their skin or coat changed
How old is your pet really?
Knowing if your pet is considered senior can be difficult as life spans vary depending on size and breed. However, generally pets that are 6+ are considered senior; see our age comparison chart below for guidance.
Keeping them young
Return the years of love your pet has given you by providing them with an extra dose of TLC; see the below points to give you some pointers for keeping them comfortable.
Is your cat or dog over 6 years old? Help your pet be content in their golden years by providing them with a little bit of extra support and TLC. We have compiled some handy tips to try, along with regular vet checks and superior nutrition best suited to their needs.
Tips for cat owners
- Adequate water - Ensure your cat has an adequate water intake by placing fresh water in multiple bowls in accessible locations. You can also add tuna juice to their water, use a pet fountain or slow dripping tap to help them meet their daily requirement of 256ml for a 5kg cat.
- Clean toilet environment - Your cat craves a clean toileting environment; always ensure there is a spare litter tray down filled with fine consistency litter. Litter trays are best with high sides and a low entry point to allow easy access with privacy.
- Easy access - Create accessibility for your cat with ramps to their favourite spots which are hard to reach and raise food and water bowls slightly above floor level.
- Nightlights - Avoid stressing or confusing your cat by rearranging furniture and moving the location of their sleeping, toileting and feeding areas. Provide a nightlight to help them navigate at night.
- Large Bed - Buy a large cat bed which allows them to stretch out with a lot of soft cushioning; try placing their bed in your room if they cry out at night.
- Exercise - Keep your cat’s mind active with exercise, food mazes / puzzles & interactive toys.
- Name tag - Make sure your cat has an ID tag and collar which clearly states if they are deaf or blind.
- Warm their food - Release aromas by slightly heating up their food.
- Comfort - Ensure your cat feels secure by keeping him in a separate area if you are having a gathering of people around.
- Appropriate medication - If your cat is on multiple medications double check that they do not interfere with each other; try hiding pills in their food, or where possible ask your vet for a paste or treat form of medication.
- For constipation; mash one – two teaspoons of bran, porridge oats, cooked rice, pasta or mashed potato into tinned food.
- To improve cognitive function; feed them a food rich in antioxidants & omega fatty acids
- As their outdoor activity slows down they may need to have their claws trimmed more frequently especially if a scratching post is not used frequently. We can help you trim them in clinic
- Place a cushion or folded blanket on your lap to make it more comfortable for older cats.
- Be careful your cat does not get locked into a garden shed or garage & make sure that you bring them inside in bad weather, warming them up in front of a heater when necessary.
Tips for dog owners
- Portion sizes: To control weight, limit portion sizes at mealtimes and consider a senior specific dry food. Only give them the occasional treat with high quality natural ingredients.
- Adequate water - Help your dog meet their daily water requirements of 1072ml for a 20kg dog; provide multiple bowls of fresh water or try a pet fountain for dogs attracted to running water.
- Regular exercise - Help your dog maintain muscle mass, mobile joints and a healthy heart with regular short exercise sessions; gentle exercise such as walking and swimming is best.
- Dental health - Keep a close eye on the dental health of your dog; try dental chews, daily brushing and a professional clean where required.
- Treat Fleas & Worms - Keep on top of your parasite control. As your dog’s immune system will become weaker with age, fleas & worms ticks can pose greater health risks.
- Safeguard environment - keep clear paths for your dog by removing any potential hazards and use a pet gate to confine them into a space when you are unable to supervise
- Supportive bed - As your dog ages, having a supportive bed is important to the comfort and eases of getting up and down; try an orthopaedic memory foam bed & a heating pad to provide warmth & ease joint pain.
- Hand signal training - If your dog struggles with hearing loss, use hand signals and body language to communicate with them.
- Affection - Show love to your dog with touch and affection; massage can also provide relief for joint pain, while brushing will help your pet with grooming.
- Mental stimulation- Keep your dog’s mind active with food mazes, treat puzzles & interactive toys.
- When walking your dog make sure you dress them in a dog coat in cold weather and ensure the track is sturdy without steep hills or obstacles that they may need to jump over
- Use a baby gate to prevent your senior dog climbing stairs which maybe difficult on their joints.
- Provide a daily routine of exercise, training and play to prevent cognitive decline.
- When outdoors remove potential hazards for your cat such as chemicals, pesticides and poisonous plants. Ensure your cat is safely away starting the lawn mower & use pet sunblock on their ears & nose.
- Use hand signals & a flashing light to call your deaf pet inside.
- Apply non skid surfaces throughout the house
- Shake out bedding frequently to keep it fresh; vacuum or dust it with flea powder to kill parasites.
What kinds of health problems can affect older pets? Geriatric pets can develop many of the same problems seen in older people, such as;
- Heart disease
- kidney/urinary tract disease
- liver disease
- joint or bone disease
I know my pet is getting older. How do I help them stay happy and healthy for as long as possible? Talk to us about how to care for your older pet and be prepared for possible age-related health issues. Senior pets require increased attention, including more frequent visits to the veterinarian, possible changes in diet, and in some cases alterations to their home environment. Here are some basic considerations when caring for older pets:
- Increased veterinary care - Geriatric pets should have semi-annual veterinary visits instead of annual visits so signs of illness or other problems can be detected early and treated. Senior pet exams are similar to those for younger pets, but are more in depth, and may include dental care, possible bloodwork, and specific checks for physical signs of diseases that are more likely in older pets.
- Vaccination - Your pet's vaccination needs may change with age. Talk to your veterinarian about a vaccination program for your geriatric pet.
- Mental health - Pets can show signs of senility. Stimulating them through interactions can help keep them mentally active. If any changes in your pet's behaviour are noticed, please consult your veterinarian.
Reproductive diseases - Non-neutered/non-speyed geriatric pets are at higher risk of mammary, testicular, and prostate cancers.
My older pet is exhibiting changes in behaviour. What's going on? Before any medical signs become apparent, behavioural changes can serve as important indicators that something is changing in an older pet, which may be due to medical or other reasons. As your pet's owner, you serve a critical role in detecting early signs of disease because you interact and care for your pet on a daily basis and are familiar with your pet's behaviour and routines. If your pet is showing any change in behaviour or other warning signs of disease, contact your veterinarian and provide them with a list of the changes you have observed in your pet. Sometimes, the changes may seem contradictory - such as an older pet that has symptoms of hearing loss but also seems more sensitive to strange sounds. We have listed below some possible behavior changes in older pets:
- Increased reaction to sounds
- Increased vocalization
- Decreased interaction with humans
- Increased irritability
- Decreased response to commands
- Increased aggressive/protective behaviour
- Increased anxiety
- House soiling
- Decreased self-hygiene/grooming
- Repetitive activity
- Increased wandering
- Change in sleep cycles
Is my pet becoming senile? Once any underlying or other disease causes have been ruled out, there is a chance your pet may be experiencing cognitive dysfunction. Studies conducted in the early 1990s were the first to identify brain changes in older dogs that were similar to brain changes seen in humans with Alzheimer's disease. Similar studies in young and older cats are also ongoing.
While researchers are still not able to identify any genetic cause of why certain animals develop signs of senility, there are drugs and specific diets available that can help manage cognitive dysfunction in dogs. If you think your pet is becoming senile, we can discuss products which can help.
What are the common signs of disease in an older pet? The signs you might see will vary with the disease or problem affecting your pet, and some signs can be seen with more than one problem. As the pet's owner, you can provide your veterinarian with valuable information that can help them determine what is going on with your pet.
How common is cancer in older pets? In pets the rate of cancer increases with age. Dogs get cancer at roughly the same rate as humans, while cats tend to have lower rates of cancer. Some cancers, such as breast or testicular cancer, are largely preventable by spaying and neutering. A diagnosis of cancer may be based on x-rays, blood tests, physical appearance of tumours, and other physical signs. The ultimate test for cancer is through confirmation via a biopsy.
My pet seems to be in pain, and isn't as active as they should be. What should I do? First, talk to your veterinarian and have them examine your pet. Your pet might have arthritis. Older pets, especially large dogs, are vulnerable to arthritis and other joint diseases, and the signs you see can vary. This chart provides the basic signs you might see if your pet has arthritis; you might see one or more of these signs in your pet.
Signs of Arthritis in Pets
- Favouring a limb
- Difficulty sitting or standing
- Sleeping more
- Seeming to have stiff or sore joints
- Hesitancy to jump, run or climb stairs
- Weight gain
- Decreased activity or interest in play
- Attitude or behaviour changes (including increased irritability)
- Being less alert
Signs of arthritis often are similar to signs of normal aging, so if your pet seems to have any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, the best thing to do is to have your veterinarian examine them, and then advise you as to what treatment plan would be best to help your pet deal with the pain. Arthritis treatments for pets are similar to those for humans, and may include:
- Healthy diet and exercise to help maintain proper weight.
- Working with your veterinarian to find a drug treatment that helps relieve the pain.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). These drugs are similar to ibuprofen, aspirin, and other human pain relievers.
- Over-the-counter natural pet remedies
- A veterinarian-prescribed painkiller and an over-the-counter treatment that together may help decrease pain and disease progression.
- Environmental modification can help such as ramps; or mats on slippery floors