Senior Pet Care
As a veterinarian, I absolutely love to see senior pets. In most cases, these dogs and cats have been an important part of the family for many years now, but other times they have found their way into a new home and have received a new “leash” on life in their golden years. Either way, these senior pets are very important to me, and I want to make sure I’m giving them the best care I can. But what might that look like? Today I’ll take you through some of my top recommendations for senior pet wellness and preventive care, as well as introduce you to a few of my favorite products to consider for your older dog or cat.
WHAT IS A SENIOR PET?
We generally consider a pet in the last 25% of their expected lifespan to be a senior pet. For Giant Breed dogs like Great Danes, this might be in the 5-6+ year range. For medium breeds such as Labrador Retrievers, it would be more like 8-10+ years old. For small dogs and cats, we often say 10-11+ years old, although with better testing available we are now finding evidence of “senior” diseases such as Chronic Kidney Disease a bit earlier than originally thought. With that said, many veterinarians consider 8+ years to be a good time to begin senior pet preventive care.
PREVENTIVE CARE TOPICS TO DISCUSS WITH YOUR VET
As your pet enters their senior years, it’s important to have an established relationship with a veterinarian you trust. Your senior dog or cat should have a thorough physical exam at least once every 12 months. However, many veterinarians recommend twice-yearly exams for senior pets due to their more rapid health declines and their increasing incidence of age-related diseases.
Continuing your senior dog or cat on their regular parasite prevention and vaccination schedule is important, especially since their immune systems begin to decline as they get older. Help protect them from common infections and parasites by discussing these topics with your veterinarian.
In addition to a thorough physical exam every 6-12 months, it is recommended that all senior dogs and cats have basic lab testing done 1-2 times yearly as well. This testing will usually consist of a baseline blood panel (cell counts, organ function, glucose, and thyroid levels), urinalysis, and a fecal parasite screen. Having these screening tests performed on a regular basis goes a long way to helping identify disease and dysfunction in their early stages, before your pet becomes severely ill and when early intervention can have a big impact.
As a personal example, our 10-year old cat seemed to be doing great at home, but when she went for her regular wellness check, her labs showed Stage 2 kidney disease. By finding out early, we were able to proactively start a therapeutic diet for kidney disease and can hopefully slow the progression of this common condition so that we have many more years of quality time with our beloved kitty.
Dental care is always important, and it becomes even more critical as your pet ages. Daily brushing of your pet’s teeth at home goes a long way to keeping their teeth and gums healthy. Just like we need to see a dentist twice a year, most pets also benefit from a professional dental cleaning every 1-2 years. For dogs and cats, this usually consists of anesthesia for full-mouth dental x-rays, scaling and polishing, and any extractions that may be deemed necessary.
A senior wellness exam is a great time to check-in with your veterinarian about your pet’s diet and any special nutritional needs they may have developed over the years. There are so many dog and cat foods available in stores and online, and the misinformation out there about proper nutrition for pets is running rampant. Before investing in a new food, please talk to your vet’s office first – they are the best qualified to speak to the unique nutritional needs of your individual cat or dog.
SOME OF MY FAVORITE PRODUCTS FOR SENIOR PETS
There are so many products available to help improve the lives of our senior dogs and cats! Today I want to introduce you to just a few of the items I find myself suggesting the most for my older patients. **As always, please discuss with your veterinarian before adopting new treatments, products, etc, for your pet**
- Dr. Buzby’s Toe Grips: Does your senior dog seem unsteady on your wood or tile floors? It’s not unusual for older pets to develop mobility issues related to arthritis and weak muscles. These problems can make it more difficult for them to navigate slippery floors. They are also more likely to injure themselves in the event of a slip or fall. Toe Grips are small rubber rings designed to improve your dog’s ability to walk on slick floors – they fit around each nail on the front and rear paws, and they are easily applied either at home, by a groomer, or at your vet’s office. Find them here: Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips for Dogs
- Orthopedic Pet Beds: Investing in an extra-comfortable orthopedic bed (Big Barker Beds) is a great idea for pets with arthritis, low muscle mass, etc. This type of bed can help reduce irritation on pressure points, reduce the risk of bed sores, improve joint pain, and help your senior dog or cat get better rest. Be sure to place the bed away from exterior walls, drafts, and air vents/returns to maximize their comfort.
- Stairs/Ramps: Senior dogs and cats who regularly jump on and off furniture such as couches and beds are at increased risk for injury of their back and limbs, including muscle strains and sprains, ligament tears, and intervertebral disc problems. Pet stairs and ramps, such as these Best Pets Pet Stairs are a good option to allow your pet access to their favorite places while lowering the risk of injury. Be sure to look for products with a non-slip walking surface AND a non-slip bottom so they stay safely in place.