Considerations for Older Dogs
Dogs reach "middle age" somewhere between ages 4 and 8 and are considered "senior citizens" after age 8 depending on the breed. Just like us, our dogs will require more care as they age. The best place to start with your dog is with a physical examination by your veterinarian at least once yearly.
To make sure your dog is healthy, pay attention to any changes in behavior. Any changes such as panting, whining, changes in walking, or any other odd behavior should be discussed with your veterinarian as these can be signs of an underlying problem.
Most things that happen to our dogs as they age are the same as those that happen to us, but our dogs can't tell us when things start to go wrong. Here are some things to watch for as your dog ages.
Obesity is the most common cause of health problems in your dog at any age. There are some simple things you can do to make sure your dog remains at a healthy weight. Feed your dog twice daily and pick up the food that is not eaten. Cut back on treats. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations on what treats are best for your dog.
Maintain your dog's dental health. Brushing your dog's teeth helps with bad breath, plaque, and most importantly helps your dog keep from losing teeth as they age. Routine cleanings are critical to the dental health of your aging dog.
Make sure your dog gets plenty of water. Change the water often to make sure it stays fresh. If your dog drinks more than usual, be sure to discuss this with your veterinarian.
Walk your dog. Exercise keeps your dog's joints moving, improves circulation, and is a great activity for both you and them. The benefits of exercise are both physical and mental, just like with us.
Watch for signs of arthritis. Dogs often develop arthritis as they age. The best prevention is exercise and weight control, but even then your dog's joints may develop some arthritis as they age. There are medications and food choices that can help your dog remain active well into old age.
Old dogs also need extra coat care. Since they spend most of their time lying down, it is possible that the underbelly can get inflammations or a matted coat. Check often that your dog is clean and free from mats. If your old dog no longer wants to be brushed (and this is often true of longer coated dogs), then shave the parts of the body that become the most matted, such as under the tail, the belly, and under the elbows.
As your dog grows older, the best rule of thumb is to pay attention to details. Such things as irregular breathing, episodes of panting, fits of crying or whining, weakness in the rear legs...all these things should be reported to your vet. Notice any changes and let your vet assist you with good advice and helpful therapy. Remember: give your dog as much good home care and vet oversight as you can. It will live longer and remain happier.
Considerations for Older Cats
As our cat's age, they undergo many of the same changes that we do. The best way to ensure the quality of their life in their senior years is to pay close attention to any changes in their physical condition or behavior. Things to look for include:
• Eating habits – are they eating more or less than usual
• Drinking – are they drinking more or less than usual
• Coughing or sneezing, vomiting or diarrhea
• Behavioral changes such as litter box habits
• Weight change – loss or gain
Unlike dogs, as cats age, their need for calories stays the same. But the type of food that is best for your cat may change as they grow older. You should discuss with your veterinarian the best nutritional plan for your aging cat. There are many cat foods designed especially for your aging cat.
Watch for signs of arthritis. If you notice your cat is having difficulty jumping or walking, they may be developing arthritis. Your veterinarian can prescribe a program that may include senior diets or medications to alleviate your cat's symptoms.
Maintain your cat's dental health. Brushing your cat's teeth helps with bad breath, plaque, and most importantly helps your cat keep from losing teeth as they age. Routine cleanings are critical to the dental health of your aging cat.
Pay attention to your cat's litter habits. Constipation is a common problem in older cats. It can result from not drinking enough water, from problems with anal glands or arthritis. If your cat is constipated, hairballs may become a serious problem. Constipation can also be a sign of more serious conditions. If you notice your cat is constipated discuss it with your veterinarian.
Dental disease is one of the most common changes we see in older cats. Studies show that 70 percent of older cats exhibit signs of gum disease. Routine dental care including tooth brushing can help keep dental disease to a minimum. Cats who have not received proper dental care can develop the significant dental disease as they age and may develop life-threatening complications. A dental care program should consist of tooth brushing, regular dental checkups, and professional cleaning as needed.
As cats age, the movement of food through their digestive tracts slows. This can result in constipation, which is very common in older cats. Constipation can occur with even more frequency in cats who may experience pain while defecating, such as those with arthritis or anal gland disease. Inactivity can also contribute to constipation. Older cats who do not drink sufficient amounts of water may also have a tendency to develop constipation. Hairballs in older cats can become a serious problem if the cat is constipated. Your veterinarian can help you determine if your cat should receive hairball medication or moist bulky foods, which can help control constipation. Constipation can also be a sign of other serious disease conditions, and a cat experiencing constipation should be evaluated by a veterinarian.
Most health problems in cats occur during the first six months of life, or in the "golden years". These health problems are usually treatable, and even if not curable, your cat can have a high quality of life for many additional years with a combination of veterinary and home care. With our geriatric program, we regularly monitor older cats in order to detect problems early - when they can be best managed or treated.
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