Trainer's Corner

Senior Pet Care

Pets and humans in their golden years are pretty similar: The ’do goes gray, the walk has a little more “attitude” (thanks a lot, stiff joints), and anything with the term “orthopedic” is on the shopping list.

And just like with people, it’s important to schedule regular doctor visits and keep a close eye on small changes in behavior or eating habits that can signal a larger problem. Many cats and small dogs are now living into their mid to late teens, and early attention to signs of aging can help keep them healthy and happy for many years. Here’s how:

  • Know when they are expected to earn their senior citizen status. Pets generally get to this point when they reach about 75 percent of their normal life expectancy for their species and breed. For cats and medium-sized dogs, that’s around 8 years old.  For giant breed dogs, that can be as young as 5-6 years of age. (Of course, it can be tough to remember they’re “seniors” when they’re still knocking things off tables or attempting duels with a squirrel outside the window! That maturity thing must take a little longer to set in.)
  • Maintain a regular veterinary exam schedule. Visit at least once a year, whether or not vaccines are needed, so that a complete physical exam can be performed and plans can be made for your pet’s specific needs and risks. On top of looking at physical health and treating disease, vets consider a pet’s nutrition, exercise, and mental health needs so they can help owners give their animals the best life possible.
  • Once a pet reaches their senior years, performing blood tests at your annual vet visit can monitor overall body function, even in pets that appear healthy. They can reveal those hard-to-detect conditions that your pet has so masterfully been hiding from you (we’re lookin’ at you, cats!). Blood tests can help detect kidney, liver, digestive and other diseases before changes in weight, appetite and energy show up. Sometimes, gradual changes seeming like normal aging are actually signs of treatable problems. Early diagnosis gives a better chance at successful treatment or management of medical conditions.
  • Brush their teeth. (Yes, really!) Kid’s soft toothbrushes, or a finger brush that looks like a rubber thimble, should do the trick. One of the most common health problems affecting senior pets is dental disease. Imagine how your teeth would look at 60 if you had never brushed or gone to the dentist! Dental problems can have an impact on a pet’s overall health, so it’s a good idea to brush (even just 30 seconds a day), or at least discuss and schedule a dental work-up with your vet.
  • The other most common health problem for seniors is weight. Help them maintain a healthy body weight by feeding the right amount of a proper diet and ensuring they get an appropriate amount of exercise.
  • Talk to your vet about supplements like glucosamine for your pet if he or she seems to have arthritis or stiff joints, and consider using orthopedic beds that can give them much-needed support.

For other ways to help your furry or feathered friend have some long and healthy retirement years, talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s specific needs.

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Copyright 2013 Connecticut Humane Society

Copyright 2013 Connecticut Humane Society