Ways To Support the Health And Well-being of Senior Dogs And Cats
As our beloved furry companions age, they require special care and attention to ensure they enjoy their golden years to the fullest. Senior cats and dogs bring endless joy and loyalty into our lives, and it’s our responsibility to provide them with the best possible care to keep them healthy and happy. In this article, we’ll explore essential aspects of senior pet care, including nutrition, pain management, exercise, and the importance of mental stimulation.
Nutrition for Senior Pets
Proper nutrition is a cornerstone of senior pet care. As pets age, their dietary needs can change, and it’s important to provide them with the right balance of nutrients to support their aging bodies.
Cats may become less active as they age, which can lead to weight gain. Switching to a senior cat food formula with fewer calories can help manage weight. Also, it may make sense to consider supplements that support joint health, which can benefit older cats with arthritis. Supplements that support internal organ health may beneficial as well. Consult with your veterinarian for guidance.
Dogs may have decreased muscle mass and a slower metabolism. Look for senior dog food that is lower in fat and higher in protein to help maintain muscle mass. Again, as with cats, supplements that support joint health and also the internal organs can be beneficial.
For both cats and dogs, regular blood work is an integral part of proactive health care.
As pets age, they may develop various health conditions, such as arthritis, dental issues, or chronic pain. It’s essential to monitor your senior pet for signs of discomfort and consult with your veterinarian for pain management strategies. Regular veterinary check-ups are crucial for early detection of age-related ailments. At Harmony Vet, we can offer a wide variety of therapies from acupuncture to massage to physical therapy to supplements and pain medication to alleviate discomfort.
Exercise and Mobility
Maintaining an appropriate level of physical activity is essential for senior pets. Exercise helps keep their joints and muscles healthy, can help avoid weight gain, and enhances mental well-being.
As dogs age and their daily exercise changes, they may not be naturally wearing their nails down as quickly. Their gait may have changed due to arthritic joints. Their nails may not be touching the ground the same way they did in their younger years, or their nails may be scraping the ground too much and wearing too quickly due to neurologic changes.
As cats age, they may stop scratching on their posts as much and therefore do not shed the outer sheath of their nails. This causes the ingrown nail to continue growing and sheath to become thicker. This sheath can curl and grow into their paw pads causing extreme discomfort and infection.
In both species, the pads of the feet offer traction on smooth surfaces, however in long haired individuals, the hair between the toes can grow out to cover the pads. This creates a situation similar to we humans running around in socks. For more information about foot care check out the blog post titled “Long Nails and Grinch Feet” at www.harmonyvetcenter.com.
If your cat responds, provide interactive toys and scratching posts to encourage play and movement. Create climbing opportunities with cat trees or shelves to keep them active. Keep in mind that an older cat might need the aid of stairs or an intermediate step to reach their favorite spot on the perch.
Adapt exercise routines to your dog’s changing needs. Shorter, more frequent walks may be preferable to long, strenuous hikes. Consider gentle activities like swimming or hydrotherapy, which are easier on aging joints. Sometimes a ramp can be helpful for getting in and out of the car.
Keeping senior pets mentally sharp is as important as physical activity. Mental stimulation helps prevent cognitive decline and keeps them engaged. Both cats and dogs can enjoy figuring out mental challenges. Puzzle toys and treat-dispensing toys can challenge your pet’s mind and provide mental exercise. Rotate toys regularly to maintain interest and curiosity.
For dogs, spending time each day working with training keeps them engaged. Allow for time every day to take your dog through the skills that they know. If your dog knows tricks, let them show those to you. They often take pride in doing so. Encouraging your dog to come to you for a treat can exercise their mind. Studies have shown that older dogs can learn new tricks, so try to train your dog to a new skill.
Another reason to keep elder pets engaged is to keep tabs on how they are doing day to day and help us to know when changes in movement and mental attitude come about. If you tend to talk to your cat throughout the day, keep it up. It just may provide the engagement they need to not withdraw socially.
Regular Veterinary Visits
Senior pets should have more frequent veterinary check-ups. Regular examinations can help identify health issues early and ensure your pet receives the appropriate care. We recommend that senior pets have exams twice per year since their health can change so quickly. Discuss with your veterinarian about senior pet wellness exams, which may include blood work, dental check-ups, and screenings for common age-related conditions. Stay up-to-date with vaccinations and parasite control.
Comfort and Safety
Make your home senior-pet-friendly by addressing their comfort and safety needs. Sometimes this means providing skid proof mats for slick floors and possibly stairs or ramps up to couches, chairs or cat perches.
Provide soft bedding and cozy resting places free from drafts. Ensure your home is well-lit to help senior pets with impaired vision. Also if your pet is vision impaired and there are changes to furniture configurations, walk around with your pet a few times so they can learn the new arrangement with as few collisions as possible.
Understanding that senior pets may not have the same energy levels or abilities as they did in their youth is crucial. Adjust your expectations and be patient with them as they age gracefully. Be aware of changes in behavior or routines that may signal discomfort or pain. Offer gentle affection and understanding during moments of vulnerability.
Caring for senior cats and dogs is a rewarding experience that requires attention to their evolving needs. Proper nutrition, pain management, exercise, and mental stimulation are all essential components of ensuring their well-being in their later years. Remember that your senior pet has given you years of love and companionship, and it’s our responsibility to provide them with the best care possible as they enjoy their well-deserved retirement. With your dedication and the guidance of your veterinarian, your senior pet can continue to thrive and bring joy to your life for years to come.