Your senior pet’s care needs will change as they age, but their desire to be part of the family never waivers. Unfortunately, owners attribute their older pet’s slow-down to “old age,” and assume nothing can be done to improve their pet’s condition. By doing so, they unintentionally resign their senior pet to a less active, less healthy, or shortened life.
If senior pets could speak, they’d remind you that underneath their greying fur and cloudy eyes they’re still the same pet you’ve always loved—they simply need a little extra help. Here are five things your senior pet wants you to know about providing the care they need and deserve.
#1: Senior pets need twice-yearly wellness visits
Routine wellness care is critical for your senior pet’s health. Many behavior and activity changes commonly attributed to old age are caused by medical conditions that can be effectively managed with treatment. We recommend twice-yearly exams for dogs starting at 8 years of age, and for cats at 10 years of age, so that our veterinarians can detect health changes sooner.
Your pet’s visit to Mill Creek Animal Hospital is also the perfect time to review your senior pet’s mobility, body weight, and nutrition. Our veterinarians can provide nutritional counseling as well as pain management plans for comprehensive senior pet care.
#2: Senior pets need mobility support
Arthritis, intervertebral disc disease, and muscle atrophy can cause your pet’s once bouncing gait to become stilted and shuffling. While their gracefulness may be gone, their pain and weakness can be effectively managed with veterinary care at Mill Creek Animal Hospital. Our veterinarians use medication, weight management, at-home exercises, and laser therapy, to help restore comfortable range of motion and strength.
Mobility is intrinsically linked to confidence, as a pet who can freely move feels less vulnerable. On the other hand, pets who struggle with movement can experience a downward spiral, as their lost confidence leads to depression, inactivity, and weight gain, which cause increased pain, stiffness, and muscle atrophy. Break the cycle for your pet by scheduling an appointment with our team. We will likely recommend some lifestyle modifications, including:
- Placing non-slip rugs or yoga mats over slick floors
- Applying a paw grip product, such as PawFriction or Dr. Buzby’s Toe Grips, to improve your dog’s traction
- Installing pet ramps over stairs or by the couch, bed, or car
- Providing your cat with a litter box with a lower entryway
- Taking your dog on several short walks per day to reduce stiffness, redistribute joint fluid, improve blood flow, and maintain muscle and range of motion
- Motivating your cat to exercise with a food-dispensing ball or motion-activated toy
#3: Senior pets may need household activities modified
Consider where in your home your senior pet spends most of their time, and where your family tends to congregate. Are they barred from joining you by a slick floor, a dark hallway, stairs, a negative association (e.g., a bad fall, a frightening experience), or the lack of a comfortable bed? Can your family relocate some of their activities to be closer to your pet? Take a close look at both spaces, and see if you can make adjustments to bring the whole family together.
Outdoor activities can be modified, too—while your senior dog may no longer manage long walks and hikes, they can enjoy the same fresh air, sights, and sounds from a doggy stroller or bike trailer. With both options, your pet can walk when they feel energetic, and ride when they’d rather rest.
#4: Your senior pet needs daily mental enrichment activities
Keeping your aging pet mentally engaged may help stave off cognitive dysfunction syndrome, a progressive dementia disorder. Many enrichment games are food- or toy-related, and suitable for pets with reduced mobility or sensory impairment, such as vision loss. Puzzles and food-stuffed toys encourage your geriatric pet to problem solve and work persistently for their reward—building new neural pathways and increasing their focus. Try beginner level toys first, slowly raising the challenge, to maintain motivation. Great enrichment options include:
- Snuffle mats
- Stuffed Kongs
- Pet puzzle toys
- Scented toys such as Playology, which can be used for a seek-and-find style game
#5: Your senior pet may need help with grooming and self-care
Senior pets may be unable to perform normal self-care duties because of pain, stiffness, or medical conditions. Owners may be too nervous about taking their frail pet to a groomer, or scared to try grooming their pet themselves. But, grooming is essential to health and should not be ignored—all pets, especially seniors, need regular brushing, baths, ear cleaning, dental cleaning, and nail trimming, to remain comfortable and healthy. Neglecting your pet’s grooming can lead to depression, skin infections, urine scald, and painful matting.
Use a non-slip mat to help stabilize your pet during grooming or bathing, and start with daily gentle brushing. Brushing allows you to check your pet for lumps and bumps, evaluate their skin and coat for changes, and to provide tactile input to your senior pet’s nervous system—which can improve their coordination, and temporarily reduce pain.
Restore your reserved senior pet to their rightful place as a full-fledged family member with the attention they need. Age is not a disease, but dismissing your pet’s physical and emotional changes as a natural byproduct of time can ensure a rapid decline. To schedule an appointment for your senior pet, contact the team at Mill Creek Animal Hospital.