Senior Pet Care Guidelines

With advancements in veterinary medicine happening frequently, our pets’ longevity and quality of life are increasing as well. While this wonderful news means we enjoy our pets for longer than ever before, it also increases the demand for quality senior pet care and requires veterinarians to address needs in older pets not tackled in the past. Fortunately, care plans to treat older pets are developing rapidly, and most vets are now well-versed in addressing the special demands of our senior furry friends. Our experienced veterinarians in Raleigh can help you navigate your pet’s health as they enter into their golden years. 

What To Expect

Though pets age differently and at different rates throughout their lifetimes, cats and small-to-medium breed dogs are considered senior pets at 7-10 years old. Large and giant breed dogs may need senior care as early as age 6. Even if your pet seems healthy, adopting a senior-pet preventive medicine schedule by age seven will give your pet the building blocks for increased longevity.  Just like aging humans, senior pets experience increases in the following:

  • Cancer
  • Muscle and joint ailments (stiffness, weakness, decreased activity)
  • Senility and brain disease
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney and urinary tract disease
  • Heart disease
  • Thyroid disease
  • Diabetes

While many senior pets live long, happy lives without experiencing symptoms of any of these ailments, knowing there are increased risks will help you and your veterinarian keep a close, watchful eye on any changes in your pet’s health. As with our own health, it is crucial and desirable to find problems in the earliest stages when intervention is most effective. Call us with any changes in your pet’s behavior, special attention should be given to the following:

  • Sores that won’t heal
  • New growths that you find or changing of old growths
  • Lameness, stiffness, slowing down
  • Changes in normal routines and habits (especially for cats)
  • Urinary incontinence, changes in potty habits or unusual “accidents” in the house
  • Increased thirst
  • Noticeable unexplainable weight loss or weight gain
  • Changes in breathing (rate, rhythm, sounds)
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea, particularly with blood
  • Apparent dizziness or fainting
  • Confusion/disorientation/sudden inability to respond to simple commands

Though any of these alone or in combination are not an automatic sign of a serious illness, they all require immediate veterinary attention. Then your pet can be on the road to recovery as soon as possible, and you can minimize the discomfort and additional consequences untreated illness can cause.

Plan for the Future

As the best vets in Raleigh we know that senior pet care is a combination of using preventive medicine and addressing issues as they arise. Though every pet’s health will change at different rates, we use a series of guidelines to help you and your senior pet navigate potential challenges as she ages, and to prevent or slow the progression of serious health problems as much as we can. Standard guidelines are as follows:

Physical Exams

Our pets age, on average, seven times faster than we do. Therefore, senior pets will need to be seen at least twice a year for comprehensive physical exams. That is equivalent to us going to our doctor every three to five years! Senior comprehensive exams should include annual or biannual baseline bloodwork and urine screens in order to catch some of the more common medical changes as quickly as possible. Others may need additional diagnostics such as blood pressure measurement, ECG and X-rays based on individual history and overall health status.

Diet and Nutrition

Older pets may need specially formulated food to help them digest more easily and optimize their overall health based on their individual medical needs. Weight gain and weight loss are both concerning changes for any pet. You should keep a close watch on your pet’s weight, as rapid gains and losses can be both a sign and a cause of potential health concerns.

Parasite Control

Senior pets’ immune systems tend to be more compromised compared to those of younger pets. Because of this, intestinal parasite preventive medications, as well as flea, tick and heartworm preventive, are especially essential as pets age.

Mental Health

Dementia, also called cognitive dysfunction, with similar roots to Alzheimer’s disease has been reported through clinical findings in both dogs and cats. Monitoring your pet for signs of behavior changes, loss of training habits and disruptions to normal routines is vital. Give your pet plenty of mental and social stimulation to help stave off age-related senility. There are also diet changes, supplements and medications available to help your pet with mental health issues.

Environmental Adaptations

Your senior pet may need environmental changes in the home and yard, such as steps to climb on beds and other furniture, non-slip rugs for slick surfaces, sleeping areas on the ground floor and less free range outside. Advanced adaptations are available for pets with physical disabilities.

Pet Arthritis

Arthritis is a common ailment in pets of all ages, even adolescents, though we do tend to see it more in aging pets. For pets with arthritis, it tends to be worse in colder months. If left untreated, it can be very painful to your pet. As pets get older, most will experience joint stiffness, just like people. Offering your pet health-appropriate exercise will help keep their joints loose and  make mobility easier. Many pet parents are quicker to recognize signs of arthritis and joint pain in larger dogs. However, millions of small dogs and cats suffer with these ailments because people don’t recognize the symptoms. Your veterinarian will be able to help assess and give you the proper tools to monitor your pet’s mobility and help you intervene, if needed. Remember, that when animals are in pain, they don’t vocalize, so here are some of the things to look for:

  • Abnormal gait and/or stiffness
  • Difficulty or hesitation with jumping on furniture or during play
  • Creaking or popping noises in joints
  • Spinal issues (hunching)
  • Tiredness
  • Irritability
  • Muscle atrophy

If you see any of the above signs that concern you, give us a call to schedule a visit. There are many options. Our goal is to get your pet pain free with a treatment plan that fits best with your lifestyle. We’ll examine your pet and create a pain management and wellness plan. Treatments may include:

  • pain medication
  • acupuncture
  • laser therapy
  • Adequan injections
  • nutritional supplements
  • physical therapy
  • weight loss (if necessary)

Next Steps

Your senior pet can have many years ahead, and we know you want them to be enjoyable ones. So do we. With a combination of preventive care and early intervention, we can help your pet’s later years be as happy and healthy as possible. We understand that taking drastic measures to keep senior pets comfortable is not every pet owner’s goal, but understanding  there are many simple, non-invasive, and financially feasible options to care for your senior pet is vital. Harmony Animal Hospital is here to help  guide you through your pet’s golden years. Please call us to schedule an appointment for your senior pet today!

Recommended Reading

American Veterinary Medical Association: Senior Pet Care (FAQ)

5 Things Senior Pets Need