Looking After Senior Pets
With advancements in veterinary medicine, nutrition and better home care, our pets are living longer and healthier lives. However, as they are living longer, we now see similar age-related problems to those in people. To help you care for your pet in their senior years, we have created some top tips and diseases to look out for at home.
When do our pets reach their senior years?
This varies a lot depending on species, breed and size, but as a rough guide, cats over 11 years of age, small and medium breed dogs over 7 years of age and large breed dogs over 6 years of age, are considered senior.
Common problems in senior pets to look out for
Many older animals suffer from the debilitating condition known as arthritis. This is an incurable, progressive disease which initially affects moving joints, causing pain and reduced movement, but eventually starts to affect the whole animal and cause chronic pain. Dogs and cats do not show pain like we do – they will not whimper or yelp and will often not limp until the pain is unbearable. It is therefore very important to look out for subtle changes in your pet’s mobility and posture at home.
Signs of arthritis can include any of the following:
– Difficulty getting comfortable and difficulty getting up from lying down
– Pacing at night time
– Difficulty going up or down stairs, or jumping up or down
– Unwillingness to walk or play
– Sleeping more than usual
– Weak hind limbs and difficulty squatting to go to the toilet
– Changes in posture and muscle loss particularly around the hind quarters
– Licking joints
– Changes in behaviour, low mood or a change in temperament
If you notice any of these symptoms in your pet, book an appointment to see one of our vets who can assess your pet for signs of arthritis and provide tailored advice to help with this painful condition.
Kidney and Liver Disease
The kidneys and liver are the most common organs to show age-related problems. Initially the signs can be subtle, but as disease progresses the symptoms can become more severe. In older pets in particular, monitor for any increase in drinking or urination, loss of appetite, weight change, vomiting or diarrhoea, or yellowing of the eyes, gums or skin. If you notice any of these signs, book an appointment with our vets to get your pet fully assessed.
It can often be difficult to get a good look in our pets’ mouths, especially our feline friends, which is why routine veterinary appointments are vital to pick up any problems. Bad breath and dental disease can not only cause pain and teeth to fall out, but can result in bacteria from the mouth spreading in the blood and damaging the kidneys, liver and heart.
Signs of dental disease include: difficulty eating, drooling, pawing at the mouth, discharge from the nose, bad breath, discolouration of the teeth, red or bleeding gums, missing teeth, loss of appetite or weight loss. Book in for a dental check with one of our team; we can assess if your pet requires any dental work and advise on a cleaning routine to keep your pet’s teeth sparkling!
As our pets age they can start to show some behavioural changes. These can range from becoming less responsive to your commands, disoriented, clingy, vocalising more, staring into space, or showing signs of aggression. Some of these changes can be related to medical issues, pain, vision or hearing loss, or can be related to cognitive dysfunction (which is similar to human dementia). Any pet with behavioural changes should have an assessment to check the cause and be given appropriate treatment.
Top tips to care for your aging pet
Claw trimming and grooming
As our pets become older, they often don’t look after themselves as well and aren’t quite as flexible to groom themselves properly. We recommend using a soft brush to groom your pet daily. If your pet develops mats in their coat around their bottom area, it is best to have them checked by a vet as this could be an indication that they have arthritis issues. The veterinary nursing team will also be able to help you safely get rid of any mats.
As our dogs age and their exercise regime is altered, their claws often don’t get worn down as quickly. It is recommended to check your dog’s claws once a week and book them in for regular nail clips to prevent overgrown and split claws. Older cats are less able to retract their claws and they can get them caught in furniture and carpets. They can also easily overgrow and curl around into their pads. Your cat’s claws should be checked weekly and you can book in to see one of our nurses who can trim the claws for you, or help train you on how to do this at home.
It is best to give your older pet routine gentle exercise every day. For dogs, exercise should be low impact and the duration and intensity of walks will need to be adjusted as they get older. Coats should be worn when outside to help keep their joints nice and warm and ball games should be avoided.
A few simple home adjustments can help your pet stay comfortable. If you have tiled, laminate or wooden flooring, this can be slippery for our older pets and make any arthritis worse. We recommend placing non-slip carpet runners down to help. For animals that struggle with stairs, a baby gate can be used to confine them to the ground floor and ramps put in place to help them get in and out of the house. Shallow steps can be placed around the home to help your pet get on and off the sofa or bed, or for cats to get up onto window sills or into a litter tray. Thick soft padded beds, or orthopaedic pet beds with thermal blankets, will help to keep your pet comfortable and ease any aches.
It is important to keep our older pets mentally stimulated to help avoid cognitive dysfunction. This can be as simple as encouraging your dog to take a new route on your daily walk, giving your cat or dog new toys and rotating through toys each week so they don’t get bored of them, using puzzle feeders and starting regular ten minute at-home training sessions for your dog or cat 2-3 times a day.
Once our pets reach their senior years, we advise having a twice-yearly health check so that any issues can be found early and any treatment started. With appropriate care, nutrition and medical intervention, our pets can live long, healthy and comfortable lives.