Being a pet parent to a senior pet can be both a rewarding and challenging experience. As pets age, their emotional and physical health needs change, and it's up to us to know how to best care for them.
Wondering what makes a pet a senior? A senior pet is any cat or dog over the age of 7. While that's still pretty young for a lot of different pets, this is when we typically start to see changes in appetite, health, and lifestyle occur.
It can be overwhelming to understand exactly what a senior pet needs, so we're here to provide the ultimate senior pet care guide. From common conditions in senior pets to diet recommendations and more, here's how to give your senior fur friend the best life possible.
The ultimate senior pet care guide
To start, let's look at the common conditions we see in senior pets so pet parents can be proactive once they start to spot symptoms.
Common conditions in senior pets
Common conditions for both dogs and cats are general degenerative conditions like arthritis, cataracts, and liver dysfunction. Endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism in dogs and hyperthyroidism in cats are also common.
"In cats, chronic kidney disease is one of the most common conditions we see in senior and geriatric patients," says Dr. Yui Shapard, BVM&S, MRCVS and Medical Director at Pawp. "Periodontal disease and cardiac disease are also very common for both, though, from experience I tend to see more of these conditions in dogs."
As pets become older, similar to elderly people, both cats and dogs may start to show signs of cognitive dysfunction—pacing around, circling, vocalizing, and acting confused.
Do I need to change my senior pet's diet?
The general recommendation is to start considering diets specific to senior pets after age 7, and definitely by age 10. There are, however, diets made for all life stages that are beneficial to continue feeding for elderly pets.
"The most important thing to remember when it comes to feeding an appropriate diet to a senior pet is to feed them a diet that meets their specific needs, especially if they have a pre-existing condition that requires a prescription diet," says Dr. Shapard.
Your veterinarian will also discuss with you whether or not changing their diet is a good idea during their check up.
How can I best take care of my senior pet?
There are a few key things pet parents can do to keep their senior pet happy and healthy.
1. Consider upping that annual vet exam to semi-annual. A year may not seem like much to us in regards to changes in our health, but to dogs and cats—especially the senior ones—a year can easily be equivalent to several years. A lot can change in that one year, and so the AVMA guideline recommends senior dogs and cats be seen for an annual exam every 6 months to make sure that any early signs of an illness or debilitating condition may be caught early.
2. Give middle-aged and senior pets omega-3s. Omega-3s are supplements that are not only safe, but also have anti-inflammatory effects that are validated through evidence-based research.
"For senior pets that are starting to show signs of mobility issues or discomfort in the joints, omega-3s would be a great supplement to start them on and continue long term," explains Dr. Shapard. "It also helps improve coat and skin condition as well as heart health."
3. Lifestyle adjustments: Thicker padded beddings, slower walks with less strenuous exercise, watching out on those treats they may no longer be able to digest as well—these are just some examples of how we can adjust their living environment and lifestyle routine to fit their slowly aging body.
4. Maintain a high quality of life. This is best achieved by the pet parents themselves who know their pets better than anyone else in the world. There are resources available for pet parents to refer back to to check on their aging pet's quality of life, such as Lap of Love's Quality of Life Scale.
Pet parents can also chat with us at Pawp anytime—our Vet Pros are a great resource to help pet parents assess their pet's quality of life.