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Caring for an elderly pet - the Twilight years

One of the hardest parts of pet ownership is watching a beloved pet start to slow down with age. The once mischievous puppy or kitten who entertained you for hours with silly antics now spends a lot of time sleeping and is more content to lie by your side than tear around your house and garden. 

By the time our pets reach their ‘twilight years’ you know them so well- what they like and don’t like, where they want to sleep and their funny little habits. They have been your constant companions for a long time- always happy to see you and by your side through thick and thin.

It is confronting to watch our pets age but this is the time to step up and look after them just as they have watched over you for so many years. The best thing you can do is help them to be comfortable during this next special phase of their life.

Our pets are living longer than ever before, and with the appropriate attention and care, elderly pets can live full and happy lives.

  • Recognising your pet is a ‘senior’ is the first step to preventative health care. There is considerable breed variation in the aging process with smaller dogs tending to live longer than larger breeds. Dogs less than 10kg are considered senior at about 8 years, medium dogs around 7 years and dogs over 40kgs are senior over the age of 6.   Cats are considered senior from about 9 years.
  • Be aware of changes in behaviour that could indicate problems with back or hips such as reluctance to rise in the morning, hesitating with stairs or unable to jump on the bed or into the car. Don’t accept old age as the reason for these changes as they could actually be symptoms of treatable underlying problems Pain is one of the most reasons for change in behaviour especially painful teeth and joints.
  • Have regular health checks. Take your pet to the vet for a thorough check up twice a year. Pets can suffer from many of the ailments that affect humans such as cancer, diabetes, dental disease, kidney failure and loss of vision. Early detection is the key and many of these conditions can be treated to help your pet maintain its quality of life. Annual wellness blood testing will also aid in early detection of disease.
  • Diet. The older dog needs a balanced diet that is lower in calories, protein and fat but higher in fibre. Your vet may recommend a prescription diet or suggest supplements to prevent any deficiencies
  • Watch their weight. Because of decreased activity level, many older pets will gain weight and conditions stemming from obesity are a common problem for senior pets. Being overweight predisposes pets to heart disease and diabetes and also places unnecessary strain on hips and joint.
  • Exercise. Older dogs still need the mental stimulation provided by daily walks and although they may not have quite the same spring in their step, they still enjoy the sights and smells of the great outdoors. I believe short but regular walks are one of the keys for keeping your pooch alert and young and opt for low impact activities, like swimming. Older cats still benefit from gentle playtime and lots of TLC.
  • Degenerative Joint Disease, also called Osteoarthritis, is one of the most common progressive conditions in dogs. It can occur as a result of hip dysplasia, joint fractures, and cruciate ligament disease. These days there are many treatment options that help to slow down the degenerative changes and restore some degree of joint function. Speak to your vet about various options but the first thing you must do to ease the pain is ensure you pet is not overweight. Even a kilo can make life tougher for your pooch as the extra load they carry will contribute to pain. There are drugs available that help reduce inflammation and pain but these may cause side effects. There is some evidence that omeg-3 fatty acids including fish oils and green lip muscle extracts will decrease inflammation in joints.|
  • Be Considerate. Think of your older pet as you would an elderly person. Their senses may not be as sharp as they once were, so they may be easily startled or grumpy. They may no longer enjoy being bothered by young children or visitors. Make sure they have comfortable bedding elevated off the ground and away from draughts. As in people anxiety disorders are more common in older patients exacerbated by poor hearing and eyesight

Dr Katrina Warren

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