Celebrating Senior Pets

It can be difficult seeing our pets get older, they start slowing down and don’t have quite the energy they had when they were younger. Since September is Senior Pet Wellness Month it’s a good time to consider how to best care for our older furry friends. Keep reading to learn some simple ways to help your aging pet live a long and happy life.

Pets age much faster than humans (especially larger breed dogs) and are considered to be “senior” at around age 7. Because of the faster aging process in our pets, health problems can occur over a much shorter period of time. Wellness exams every 6 months, for the life of your pet, can help catch diseases earlier when they are easier to correct or manage. Wellness exams consist of a full physical exam by a veterinarian, as well as discussion of any physical or behavioral changes your pet may be experiencing. Symptoms to watch for at home that may indicate illness would include changes in appetite, changes in weight, drinking more, urinating more, changes in behavior or activity level, bad breath, lumps or bumps on or under the skin, vomiting, diarrhea, labored breathing and coughing. Further tests such as bloodwork, urine testing, radiographs or ECG may be recommended based on history, exam findings, and the age of your pet.

Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease (DJD), is a very common condition in senior pets. DJD occurs when the cartilage present in joints becomes damaged or worn. This deterioration of the cartilage induces secondary inflammation and pain in the joint. Animals with osteoarthritis typically have a hard time getting up or down from a laying position, seem stiff or even limp when they first get up, have difficulty going up or down stairs, or may no longer be able to jump onto furniture or into the car. There are many ways to help manage osteoarthritis in pets. Keeping your pet at their ideal, or slightly lower, body weight is one of the most important ways to help manage DJD. There are nutritional supplements available that contain Glucosamine and/or Chondroitin sulfate that help promote cartilage repair and slow destruction of cartilage. Managing pain and inflammation is also important in the management of osteoarthritis. Typically non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) are used to control pain and reduce inflammation. Additional pain medications are often prescribed as DJD progresses. Moderate exercise, such as walking and swimming, is important to maintain muscle tone and strength. Strenuous exercise should be avoided so as not to further damage the joints.

There are things you can do at home to help make your senior pet more comfortable. Providing well padded beds for pets to lie on, keeping food dishes, litter boxes and water easily accessible, and putting carpet or non-skid runners on stairs or other slippery floor surfaces will make life easier and more comfortable for your pet. Minimizing use of stairs or providing ramps for pets to use to get on furniture or to replace stairs will help reduce the risk of your pet injuring themselves.

It is important to continue to maintain good dental health and good nutrition in your pets as they age. Poor dental health can lead to pain, infection, reduced ability to eat and weight loss. Routine home dental care such as brushing your pet’s teeth, using oral rinses or water additives and dental treats and bones is very important. Your pet will still need routine veterinary dental cleanings as well. Keeping your pet at an ideal body weight not only helps manage symptoms of osteoarthritis but extends your pet’s life. A study done by Purina showed that dogs maintained at an ideal body weight lived almost 2 years longer and had fewer health problems than dogs who were overweight.

Unfortunately we can’t make our pets live forever, but there is plenty we can do to give them as long and healthy and happy a life as possible.