There’s something uniquely special about the bond between a senior pet and their owner. The ease and the intuitive understanding that develops with each passing year create a deep connection that we wish could last forever.
However, watching your pet age can be bittersweet, as their once effortless movements become stiff and sometimes arthritic, their expressive eyes become cloudy, and they choose to rest instead of play.
Help your golden oldie feel the love—and feel their best—for as long as possible by following these five senior pet support tips from the South Shores Pet Clinic team.
#1: Stay up-to-date on your senior pet’s wellness exams and care
By the time our pets reach their senior years, we can often predict their behavior, but predicting their health isn’t so simple. Senior pets can experience unexpected and seemingly sudden health changes that cause a rapid decline. For this reason, the South Shores Pet Clinic team recommends twice-annual physical examinations for senior pets. More frequent exams ensure early detection of common senior pet conditions, including arthritis, endocrine disorders, chronic kidney disease, and cancer, which increases treatment options and allows our veterinarians to more successfully minimize or manage your pet’s discomfort and clinical signs.
More frequent visits also allow us to monitor your senior pet’s cognitive health, mobility, and quality of life and to recommend personalized at-home care that will help them age with grace.
#2: Watch your senior pet’s weight
Extra pounds and ounces may not seem significant, but additional weight unnecessarily complicates your senior pet’s mobility and health. Excess body fat increases inflammation, which can aggravate arthritic joints, and also the risk for orthopedic injury, diabetes, cancer, and kidney and heart disease.
If your pet is overweight or obese, talk to your South Shores Pet Clinic veterinarian, who will first rule out certain health conditions (e.g., hypothyroidism in dogs, heart failure) that may be contributing to their weight. Your veterinarian can also help you determine your pet’s daily caloric needs and the amount of food they require per day. If your pet is currently at a healthy weight, you should perform a monthly check of their body condition score (BCS) to ensure they do not gain or lose weight.
#3: Teach your old pet a new trick with mental enrichment toys and games
Older pets may no longer be able to safely participate in their favorite physical activities, but their minds are still active and eager for exercise. Encourage your aging dog or cat’s critical thinking skills with mentally stimulating, low-impact brain games suitable for mobility-challenged seniors. Scent-based activities also are a great way to engage and interact with vision- or hearing-impaired pets. Finally, any activity that promotes new neural pathways may slow your pet’s age-related mental decline and cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS).
Our favorite senior pet enrichment strategies include:
- Sniff walks
- Snuffle mats
- Food dispensing balls
- Slow feeder bowls
- Trick training
- Puzzle toys
#4: Get moving to preserve your senior pet’s strength and flexibility
The phrase, “If you don’t use it, you lose it” is especially true for your senior pet’s muscle mass and mobility. Reduced activity in senior pets leads to physical weakness, as well as increased joint stiffness, soreness, and pain and further reduces mobility, strength, flexibility, and muscle mass (i.e., muscle atrophy), as pets try to avoid the anticipated discomfort.
Encourage your pet’s low-impact movement whenever possible to preserve their joint health and muscle mass by:
- Placing your pet’s food dish at the far end of your home
- Playing the “name game” with another family member and calling your pet back and forth for meal portions
- Taking regular, slow walks around the neighborhood
- Swimming or hydrotherapy (i.e., underwater treadmill walking)
- Signing up for a doga class (i.e., dog and human yoga)
Although aging pets don’t require the same type of exercise as they did in their prime, senior dogs and cats still need to move their bodies safely and gently to preserve their joint and overall health.
#5: Prioritize comfort and safety with home modifications for your senior pet
Your senior pet’s daily routine is important to their overall confidence and comfort. When arthritic or health challenged pets struggle to act or behave normally, they may experience stress, fear, or pain.
Simple modifications to your home can protect your aging pet from injury, preserve their confidence, and help them remain part of the family. These changes can include:
- Installing pet ramps over stairs or to help pets access furniture or the car
- Using mobility harnesses to assist larger dogs with walking or rising
- Providing a low-sided or walk-in litter box to eliminate painful high stepping or jumping
- Ensuring your senior pet can easily access key resources (e.g., food and water dishes, beds, litter box or potty pads) throughout the home
- Investing in an orthopedic bed that supports your aging pet’s joints
- Placing rugs over slippery floors or applying a traction product to your dog’s feet (e.g., PawFriction)
A senior pet’s love and trust is a beautiful and special gift. Show your aging dog or cat the same kindness by scheduling a wellness appointment at South Shores Pet Clinic. Contact our caring team any time you want to discuss your pet’s needs or problems.