By, Dr. Donna J. Spector, VCA Animal Hospitals

The key to helping pet’s live longer and healthier lives is early recognition of problems that come naturally with aging.  Follow these guidelines to help your pet make the most of their Golden Years.

1 – Become informed about the common medical conditions affecting older pets (7+ yrs old) —cancer, diabetes, kidney failure, arthritis, liver and intestinal disorders—and notify your vet immediately if your pet starts exhibiting any concerning symptoms.

2 – Find an excellent VCA veterinarian. Older pets should visit their veterinarian every six months in order to detect problems early.  Because dogs and cats age faster than humans do, their health problems can progress much more rapidly.  Prevention is the best “medicine” and many diseases of older pets are easily managed if detected early enough.

3 – Continue attending to basic health maintenance such as flea and tick control, dental health, and vaccination to insure your pet is well protected against preventable diseases.  To avoid unnecessary risks, ask your veterinarian about newer vaccination protocols and anesthetic procedures for older pets.4 – Consider the usage of supplements for your older pet.  Certain supplements may help counter degenerative organ changes that occur during the aging process.  For example, fatty acids have a proven anti-inflammatory affect in many organ systems; glucosamine may act as a cartilage-protecting agent to improve mobility; digestive enzymes and probiotics may be beneficial for gastrointestinal health; milk thistle can be used for chronic liver problems.  Ask your veterinarian what supplements might be right for your senior pet.

5 – Recognize that older pets often experience hearing loss and failing eyesight.  Although these are usually degenerative changes with no cure, your veterinarian should evaluate your pet for treatable conditions.  Make adjustments around your home to avoid dangerous situations for your pet—eliminate tables with sharp corners or holes in the yard that your pet may not see.  Announce yourself with your voice and footsteps when approaching your pet to avoid startling.

6 – Provide your older pet the healthiest and most nutritious food you can.  If you are considering making your pet’s food, work with your vet or a veterinary nutritionist to insure you are creating a complete and balanced diet.  In order to avoid problems with constipation, make sure both dogs and cats have free access to fresh, clean water.

7 – Don’t over-feed your pet.  As many pets age, their metabolism and activity levels decline which decreases their need for calories.  In general, older pets require 30-40% less calories than their younger counterparts.  Overfeeding can lead to weight gain, obesity, and increased problems with arthritis.

8 – Provide your pet adequate exercise.  With aging often comes decreased mobility and problems with arthritis.  It is important to continue exercise in order to avoid obesity and keep your pet’s muscles strong to support their aging and arthritic joints.  Swimming is an excellent exercise for older pets as it limits stress on joints and encourages a large range of motion. Leash walking and low-impact stair climbing are also good exercises.  Make sure to include a warm up and cool down period with every exercise session.

9 – Avoid stressful situations for your older pet.  As pets age they often become less tolerant in certain conditions.  Recognize what constitutes stress for your pet (crowds, noise, children, etc) and avoid exposure to keep them comfortable.10 – Spend quality time with your older pet.  Many senior pets require extra nursing care or help with grooming—giving your pet some extra love and attention will help them thrive!