Check out Your Pet's age in Human Years!
If your pet has reached its senior years, you probably have noticed many changes are taking place. Just like humans, dogs and cats ease into their senior years and are usually very active, but are slowing down gradually. As they continued to age, their bodies change, their metabolism slows down, and their organs have to work harder. There are many ways to slow the signs of aging and make our senior pets more comfortable and happy.
Some aging changes are very noticeable; for example, failing vision and hearing loss, coat changes and altered sleep patterns. Other changes are more subtle and are harder to detect.
Caught early, many of these changes can be slowed or soothed to keep our pets happy and healthy long into their senior years.
Senior pets commonly lack reserve; that is they have decreased stamina, are more easily stressed (especially by significant changes), and have decreased immunity. A weakened immune system means it is easier for them to catch contagious diseases and to develop tumors.
To help overcome this problem, keeping vaccines current, feeding a high quality, balanced diet, and being aware of stressful events can help keep your pet well.
Our aging pets also become more sensitive to temperature changes. In fall, winter, and in early spring, they become cold more easily. This is in part due to reduced circulation, loss of muscle mass, and a thinning fur coat.
In the heat of the summer, senior pets cannot cool themselves well. Control their access to the heat so that they are not out for extended periods of time and keep plenty of cool water available.
- Using a sweater for trips outside - and even inside if the house has drafts - can help.
- Using a heating pad set on low and covered with towels
- or a blanket in their beds or a favorite napping place can ease the chill too.
- Be sure to keep the heating pad on low and covered so the pet does not get burned.
- Cords should be shielded to prevent chewing.
- Special pet bed heaters can also be purchased.
Dry thinning coats also occur commonly.
Their bodies do not produce an adequate amount of oil and hormones to maintain the thick coat of their youth. Fatty acids supplements such as Efa-caps, Derm Caps, and Efa-Z oil can be helpful. These supplements are added to the food daily.
Be aware that bacon grease and vegetable oil are of little use in coat health and can make your senior pet fat.
Topical treatments include daily brushing, routine baths with moisturizing shampoos, and humectant sprays such as Humilac. Just like in people, dry skin is itchy and irritating. Proper moisturizing can be beneficial.
Deafness and vision loss also present problems for senior pets. Symptoms of hearing loss include
If you can walk up to your pet without disturbing their sleep, they may have some hearing loss.
- being less responsive to owners returning home
- not coming to the sound of the can openers and treat jars
- and sleeping very soundly.
Signs of vision loss include
Though hearing and vision loss are generally irreversible, using whistles, clapping, and ighting dark areas such as rooms and porches will help your pets.
- looking in the wrong direction when called
- bumping into furniture especially when it has been recently moved
- and failure to recognize you
Cataracts, if they develop, may require surgery in some cases; however, not all dogs develop cataracts, and not all cataracts warrant surgery.
Weight loss and lack of appetite can also be a problem for seniors. Just like people, they lose some of their sense of smell and taste as they age. Food seems less appetizing, so they eat less. They also lose muscle mass and tone.
It is very important to reduce the consumption of human food, as it is generally too hard to digest and tends not to be balanced properly. If the senior is obese, a diet should be started because obesity adds stress to the organs and joints. Even a 10% weight loss can be beneficial.
- A well balanced diet with high quality, easily digested ingredients will help.
- Warming the food slightly or adding some canned food to the diet can improve palatability too.
- Top dressings of low fat bouillon or water packed tuna juice can be tried in tough cases.
Mild dehydration is common in senior pets. Frequently they have very dry stools, as they arenít getting enough water. Encouraging drinking will help as well as adding a small amount of Metamucil to the food each day. If your pet is having constipation frequently, a consultation with the veterinarian is needed to help alleviate symptoms.
Personality changes are among the most notable changes that people often see.
Many of these changes can be directly related to physical problems. For example
- Senior pets sleep more or have changes in their sleep patterns. Some will be restless at night, pacing a lot, but then tired all day.
- Sometimes the amount of socialization with family members will decrease.
- Confusion can develop, as can house training problems.
- pacing can be a sign of joint pain and stiffness.
- Fear of the dark and separation anxiety can also intensify. The use of a night light and occasionally medication can ease these symptoms.
- Canine cognitive disorder (CCD) is similar to senility in man. Dogs and cats actually forget things they used to know. Perhaps theyíve forgotten how to tell you they need to go outside; if they cannot tell you, they may have accidents in the house. In addition to re-training for the forgotten skill, being alert to their needs and keeping a schedule will help.
- Some medications have been shown to improve the thought process in some senior pets, delaying the onset of some forgetfulness.
As mentioned before, body changes can also occur. These changes affect how well your pet feels, and how well they adjust to changes. For example
Annual or semiannual examinations and periodic blood work can help detect early organ problems. Often, changes in these organs can only be detected by blood tests because your pets cannot tell you how they feel ill until they are very sick. If detected early, many diseases can be controlled so your pet can live a happier, healthier life.
- arthritic changes can lead to restlessness, decreased social interaction, and even make the happy pet very cranky.
- Kidney and liver disease can decrease appetite, increase confusion, and increase drinking and urination.
- Heart disease can lead to listlessness and a lack of exercise tolerance. Pets with heart disease tire easily and lose the desire to go for walks and play.
Each senior pet has his or her own specific set of needs. The doctors will recommend tests based on your petís age and physical examination findings. Individual treatment plans are developed for each senior pet, as no two are exactly alike. Perhaps you would like to fill out a Senior Wellness Survey.
If you have any questions about senior health care, or need to schedule an appointment feel free to call us at 685-4707. We would be happy to answer any and all of your questions. You are welcome to sign up for our senior care classes offered periodically throughout the year.