We love our furry friends and acknowledging that they are growing older is easy to push aside. But pet parents who meet the needs of senior pets with regular veterinary care and senior food, supplements and specialized supplies can help their dogs and cats increase their lifespan.
Generally, age 7 is when a dog or cat is considered “older.” A 7-year-old cat is equal to a 54-year-old human, and a 7-year-old dog equals age 44 to 56 (depending on the size of dog) in human years. Larger breed dogs have a shorter life span and are considered a senior dog about age 6.
As pets grow older, they experience age-related conditions that require more care and specialized nutrition to remain as healthy as possible for as long as possible. They may need extra care for teeth, joints, digestion and excretion. They may require assistance with mobility and a change in food and treats.
* Nutrition: Older pets may need to switch to foods that have easily digestible ingredients and anti-aging nutrients. A balanced diet is still important for aging cats and dogs. Wet food may be a good alternative when it becomes difficult for a pet to eat dry kibble. Cats are carnivores but require essential fatty acids, minerals and vitamins like vitamin A and calcium. Dogs typically need meat-based proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Nutritionally balanced senior pet foods are available.
* Weight: Obesity is not just a problem for people. Many dogs and cats in the U.S. also suffer from obesity. Weight gain in older pets can impact their health, and unplanned weight loss is a potential signal of a health problem like diabetes or kidney issues. Pet parents should consult with a veterinarian about the nutrient-balanced recipes that are right for weight and health concerns. Treats that are low fat and food with specific calorie levels may be recommended.
* Toppers: Typically sauces or gravies that go on top of a pet’s regular food, toppers can provide added nutrients and fluids. From probiotics to vitamins, toppers are available for cats and dogs. They also can add flavor to a balanced meal to help the animal enjoy the food. A veterinarian can help pet parents decide what topper is right for their furry friend.
* Hydration: Pets need clean, fresh water. The amount of water a dog or cat should have each day depends on size, weight, weather and activity level. On average, a dog should have 8 to 17 ounces of water per day. An average cat should have 5 to 10 ounces of fluid a day. If cats eat wet food, most of their daily fluid intake will come with that food. It’s important to know what normal fluid intake is for your pet so you can watch for changes. Pets who suddenly or gradually drink more or less water may have a health issue, so be sure to discuss it with your veterinarian.
Aging pets may need different minerals, vitamins and amino acids than younger pets. Your vet can guide you based on your dog or cat’s health. Supplements for pets include: glucosamine, chondroitin, fish oils, bone broths and hemp and CBD salve and oils, treats and topical products. Supplements can help manage pain from arthritis, joint issues, inflammation and help with skin and coat health.
Care & Supplies
* Oral care: During regular checkups at the veterinarian, a pet’s teeth and gums should be checked. Good oral health is important to the overall health of a dog or cat. Treats with teeth-cleaning shapes can help with the buildup of plaque and tartar and keep breath fresh. Toothbrushes, chews and chew toys for dogs can be part of oral care.
* Temperature: Just like older adults, older pets may have trouble with regulating body heat and cold. Cozy bedding (heated or not) helps keep a pet warm and may reduce joint pain. A blanket or coat can keep a dog or cat warm in cold temperatures. In hot weather, a cooling pad may help older animals avoid heatstroke and sooth aches.
* Beds: Beds for older pets should support body weight and reduce pressure on muscles and joints. Extra support can help with arthritic changes and mobility issues.
* Skin and coat care: When older cats stop self-grooming, a soft-bristle brush can help keep skin and hair healthy. For dogs (and the rare cat), shampoos for sensitive and dry skin and waterless shampoos are available. Flea and tick prevention products are important to remember for older pets who venture outside or are exposed to other animals who do go outside. Hotspot spray and ear cleanser may be necessary for dogs, and nail trimmers are essential for older dogs.
* Toys: Keeping a pet mentally stimulated throughout its life may slow down cognitive decline. Electronic toys that are catnip infused and involve “chasing” a mouse or ball may work well for a senior cat. Laser toys are always a hit with cats and treat finder toys usually engage a dog or cat. Chew toys and ropes are good options for older dogs.
* Scratching post: A senior cat may claw rugs instead of its cat scratcher, as it becomes harder to reach up with legs and paws. A scratching post or pad that lays flat on the ground may help.
* Aides: Steps or ramps are available for pets who can’t jump on beds, chairs or cat trees anymore. For pets in decline, diapers may be necessary.
* Litter Boxes: It’s imperative that a cat can get into its litter box. A cat with mobility issues may need a low-entry box without a cover. Add a ramp outside the box for easy access. Potty pads may become necessary once hip and joint issues become serious. For both cats and dogs, having a bottle of stain and odor remover is important.
With the help of veterinarians and a variety of available products, pet parents can make their pets’ golden years happy and healthy.