Thanks to advances in pet nutrition (in part) we are fortunate enough to enjoy our pets that much longer due to their extended life expectancies. However, with an extended life comes a higher possibility of suffering from age-related health issues so extra special care is needed as pets enter their geriatric years.
Thankfully, most of these health issues, such as deterioration of the joints and coronary, cognitive & immune system function, can be treated quite effectively and with little effort, often using a combination of prescription medications and the correct diet.
Detecting age-related issues early is the first line of defense, so keeping up regular vet visits is key (twice a year is recommended for older pets). This way you will not only spare your pet unnecessary suffering but will also hopefully spare your pocket, as an issue treated early can often be rectified with less medical intervention. Your vet will guide you from there, noting if more regular checkups are needed for pets put on chronic medication and advising you in terms of the best possible diet to support your pet’s unique requirements.
Although true of all life stages, it’s important, now more than ever, to give your pets access to fresh, clean water and the best quality pet food that you can afford and one that supports a healthy weight. Senior diets should generally be lower in calories yet still contain protein, fat and fibre. This doesn’t mean breaking the bank – by simply buying a Pet Food Industry Association of Southern Africa (PFI) member’s brand you can be sure that you are feeding a good quality food, manufactured according to international standards – and there is a member brand to suit every budget; just look for the PFI logo on the packaging or confirm membership via the website (pfisa.co.za). If switching over to a new brand of food it’s easier on your pet’s gut to do so gradually, mixing the new food into the old food and slowly increasing the ratio over a week or 2. A great deal of pet food manufacturers are investing in research efforts to develop better senior foods for the various age-related conditions experienced by our pets – and this is true of PFI members in particular – keep informed of new developments so that you can switch over, if needed.
Should your elderly pet be diagnosed with an age-related issue your vet may suggest supporting treatment with a specially formulated diet that contains just the right level of nutrients to aid in management of that specific ailment or they may prescribe an additional dietary supplement. Your pet will benefit hugely from receiving the correct nutrients to support their unique needs as the nutrition that you provide for your pet can greatly assist some of the metabolic and body composition changes that are associated with old age. Food palatability is important too, to ensure your pet is able to eat and digest the nutrients and therefore benefit from them.
Here are some other general pointers to make your pet more comfortable during their later years:
Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for older pets, since osteoarthritis is one of the most common disorders for their age group and extra weight compounds the issue. Arthritis sufferers will feel the pain more in colder months, so special care should be taken to keep them comfortable during these periods
Maintain a routine of regular (low impact) exercise to assist weight management and keep your pet supple and stimulated
With age comes less mobility, which can be assisted by installing ramps where necessary and providing extra bed padding or blankets
Colder months are more difficult for older pets – they will need additional warmth and possibly even more sustenance to maintain the correct body temperature and support higher energy requirements. The natural aging process makes body temperature regulation less consistent so, be sure to keep your pet dry, warm and preferably indoors, especially at night. If being indoors is problematic, give them adequate shelter and additional warmth – blankets and pet jerseys work well
Keep up a good dental care regime, by using either pet-specific toothpaste or dental treats to reduce plaque build-up, or, if needed, enquire with your vet about the option of dental cleaning under anaesthesia. Most dry foods from PFI members have a dental cleaning effect as well.
As your pet grows older he or she may also begin to lose his sight or hearing, which can be stressful and cause disorientation. To minimise this stress, remove clutter, try not to change the position of furniture and put measures in place to prevent them from getting lost.
Above all, pay particular attention to your aging pet and don’t ignore anything that’s out of the ordinary – these potential warning signs should send you to the vet for a check-up. Be especially aware of lumps; toileting or respiratory issues; changes in weight, energy, appetite or water intake; stiffness or limping and other significant behaviour changes.