Dr. Al Townshend
We are all aware that we begin to age the day we are born. Our pets are no different; they go through three different primary stages as they age.
- Puppies and kittens grow and develop. Their body grows, and the tissues become more efficient and more robust. The brain begins to learn, and they become more active and agile.
- The adult stage is all about the experience’s life brings. Pets continue to lean, and the body adjusts to the lifestyle, food, exercise, and environment the Guardian has chosen for their pets.
- The senior stage is a time of slowing down. Experience has made the pet wiser and more assured. At the same time, the body is beginning to show signs of wear. It is essential that Guardians recognize this stage and make the necessary adjustments to assure the best quality of life for as long as possible.
When is a Pet Considered a Senior?
Many Guardians are unaware that veterinarians have done the research and determined that the senior life for dogs begins between 7 and 9 years of age, depending on the breed type. Smaller dogs tend to age slower and live longer. A Great Dane will become a senior sooner than a Dachshund. The smaller the pet generally, the longer the life.
Cats are considered seniors at around 10 years of age and can live into their 20s.
Half of their lives are spent as a senior for many pets. Their Guardians must recognize that fact and make the changes needed to ensure their quality of life is the best possible and their life span is extended. Not admitting the pet is a senior and avoiding the necessary changes until it’s too late can be a heart-breaking experience for the family.
What Happens as a Pet Ages?
As pets age, they begin to slow down; they are not as active as they once were. They may still chase the ball, but they lose interest more quickly. Their metabolism slows, and they don’t need as many calories. Some organs and systems of the body become less efficient and begin to show signs of wear.
Recognizing and addressing potential changes before they are apparent can delay their onset and support the best quality of life for the longest time. Waiting until signs are obvious may be too late to make changes that make a difference.
What are the Important Considerations for Pets as They Approach the Senior Stage of Life?
As a pet approaches the senior years, being proactive and making changes early is key to a comfortable long life. Older pets take a little more effort, but they still give more than they receive every day.
- Nutrition needs to be adjusted to address changes in metabolism, reduced activity, and a decrease in the efficiency of the digestive system.
- Older pets need fewer calories.
- The digestive system becomes less efficient, so foods need to be highly digestible and easy for the body to utilize.
- Some pets lose interest in food, so it needs to taste good.
- Many seniors are already overweight. Getting weight off is essential for heart and kidney health, reducing joint stress and wear, and regular exercise.
- Foods designed for senior pets address many of the senior’s needs.
- Enhancing the taste of the food with tasty toppers and mixers can develop excitement at meals and improve palatability
- Rotational feeding assures balance and a greater interest.
- Exercise is still important. Daily walks and retrieving the ball or playing with a toy keeps muscles toned and supports the joints. Exercise strengthens the respiratory system and conditions the heart. Only provide the amount and intensity the pet can easily tolerate.
- Make sure current collars, leashes, and harnesses are not worn.
- Pets should be adequately identified with collar tags and microchips to avoid losing a pet for good when outside
- Toys and puzzles that stimulate activity as essential for pets, especially indoor kitties.
- Pet Planet offers a wide selection of exercise essentials, like collars and leashes, and toys in-store.
Eyes and Ears
- Eyes and ears become less efficient. Hearing and vision aren’t what they used to be.
- Be sure and keep good grooming supplies on hand to keep the eyes and ears clean.
- Eye supplements can slow the loss of vision. Vitamins A, D, and E. Lycopene, Astaxanthin, and Lutein, along with the Omega 3 fatty acid, DHA, can all support good vision.
- Joints are wearing down, creating discomfort. Wear of the joints is always expected.
- As the bones within the joint begin to wear due to age, injury, or genetic abnormalities, arthritis can develop and cause discomfort and a reluctance to get up and exercise. Once arthritis begins, it can’t be cured; it always gets worse with time.
- Weight management is critical throughout life to reduce wear and prolong the development of arthritis.
- Supplementing with Omega 3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation lessen the discomfort.
- Glucosamine, Chondroitin, and MSM support cartilage formation over the bones that act as a cushion. They also thicken the joint fluid making it a better lubricant, and reducing discomfort.
- Cognitive function, or the mental processes involved in learning, using knowledge, remembering, and reasoning. Older pets can become confused and anxious and need to be reassured.
- Pacing, sleeping long hours, forgetting the normal routine of the home, and not recognizing family members at first sight are among the many signs of age-related loss of cognitive function.
- Supporting brain function with senior foods, treats, and supplements rich in brain support vitamins, antioxidants, Omega fats, and natural herbs can support end even enhance brain function in pets.
- Natural calming products that can reduce stress and anxiety.
- Dental health is critical for older pets. Keeping the teeth clean and the gums healthy will eventually require a dental cleaning by a professional.
- Proper food, dental treats, chew toys, and oral gels and sprays can slow the process and delay veterinary dental cleanings.
- A safe environment is essential.
- Helping pet up the steps or on the bed.
- Better lighting, especially at night.
- Good traction on slippery floors
- Warm, soft sleeping areas.
- Gates at the top of stairs to prevent falls.
- Recognizing areas where the pet needs help before it becomes a threat.
- Additional grooming can become necessary as the pet becomes less active and slows down routine grooming.
- Nail trims may need to be more frequent. Make sure the tools are sharp to be the most effective.
- Brushing and combing the hair to avoid mats and stimulate the skin.
- Bathing more frequently with milder shampoos to keep the pet clean the hair lustrous.
Not every pet will experience all of the issues mentioned; however, every pet has the potential to need additional; consideration as they age to provide the best quality of life for the pet during the senior years. Visit your local Pet Planet and talk with an Ambassador about your senior.