PET FRIENDLY: Senior Pets Need Special Care

| August 21, 2013 | 0 Comments | Pet Friendly

As an aging Baby Boomer, it seems I’m increasingly surrounded by more senior people and pets and more aware of changes in behavior and needs associated with aging. As Betty White, the remarkable 91-year-old actress and comedian aptly notes, “Old age is not a disease; it is simply a stage of life.”

Pepper, our Labrador “wonder dog,” is fast approaching her 14th birthday. We have noted signs of creeping mental disorientation often punctuated with shrill barks. We also have observed her reduced physical endurance and worsening arthritis. A few years ago she was treated successfully for two separate cancers, but now shows new signs of cancer. Given her advanced age, our main focus is on her daily quality of life.

Like people, dogs and cats on average, are living longer lives, remaining healthy longer and receiving better medical care. A senior dog is defined by age and size, with larger dogs showing earlier signs of aging.  A 7-year-old dog over 50 pounds is now considered a “senior citizen” (+50 years). Cats and smaller dogs are considered “senior” when they reach 9.

An estimated 52 percent of dogs and 55 percent of cats over age seven are overweight among the approximately 45 million dogs and cats in the United States today. Fortunately, there is a growing volume of helpful research on the special needs of older pets and how to accommodate them.

Most importantly, senior pets should check in with their vets more often (at least every 6 months), and pet owners need to be alert to changes in their pets’ daily routines, health and behavior. There are three more areas where our actions and attentiveness can help our pets sustain a reasonable quality of life:

  • Diet and Oral Care – Build good habits early in your pet’s life.  Feed them nutritious food, add supplements if recommended by your vet and minimize abrupt changes in their food and meal times. Older dogs and cats are prone to weight gain as their activity levels decline. Healthy teeth contribute greatly to pets’ overall health. High-quality pet food and treats, and periodic cleaning of gums and teeth, work together to promote pet longevity.
  • Regular Exercise – Ensure your pets get regular exercise and stay well-hydrated. Adjust exercise routines to reflect your pet’s size, weight, age and health profile. We walk our senior dog at least once daily at a leisurely pace when the temperature is most moderate. Most cats enjoy interactive play.  Many will enjoy walks on a leash if you make this a routine when they are young.
  • Weight Monitoring – Senior pets need our help to maintain a healthy weight.  Extra pounds aggravate arthritis in dogs and cats.  An unhealthy diet and insufficient exercise often work together to aggravate weight problems and pet discomfort.  Many veterinarians make it easy to weigh your pet accurately, with or without a scheduled appointment.  If yours does, take advantage of this service.

Chris Bates is the founder of Top Choice Pet Care LLC (, which provides affordable, loving and reliable dog walking, pet sitting and other pet services to the Bristow, Gainesville, Manassas and Nokesville communities.  A farmer’s son, life-long animal lover and pet owner, Chris is a Certified Professional Pet Sitter (CPPS) through Pet Sitters International and is PetSaver™-trained in pet first aid and CPR.

© 2013, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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