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Supporting pets in their golden years

 
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Although they may act young at heart, your pet’s health and behaviours will change as they age. From a slowing metabolism to more serious illnesses, senior animals can suffer from a variety of age-related issues.

Just like humans, regular health checkups become increasingly important for your pet as they age. Whether you notice changes or not, your veterinarian can help identify any concerning signs and work with you to ensure your pet continues to live a happy and healthy life.

As a veterinarian at the Limestone Valley Animal Hospital in Burlington, Ont., Dr. Albert Wimmers frequently works with senior pet-owning clients to help maintain their companion’s overall well-being as they age. For Dr. Wimmers, properly caring for a senior pet starts with regular examinations.

“Veterinary checkups are important, ideally twice a year for senior animals,” says Dr. Wimmers. “Each visit includes a general physical exam, likely with blood work and a urinalysis, and provides an opportunity for you to ask your veterinarian lots of questions.”

During an exam, your veterinarian will inspect your pet from tip to tail to detect signs of common medical issues in senior pets.

“We typically see changes in hearing and vision, decreased activity, stamina and mobility,” says Dr. Wimmers. “It’s also common to see senior pets that are experiencing cognitive changes, such as a decrease in awareness.”

A typical examination includes checking your pet’s eyes, ears, face and mouth, as well as inspecting their coat and listening to their chest. To address internal issues, veterinarians often use diagnostic tests to detect illnesses such as cancer, diabetes or gastrointestinal issues.  

Checkups also allow your veterinarian to monitor your pet’s weight. With obesity affecting almost one in three pets, your veterinarian will want to discuss how to manage your pet’s diet to keep them at a healthy weight, while also preventing other common age-related issues such as arthritis.

“Nutrition is very important for senior pets,” says Dr. Wimmers. “Senior pets should be eating a high-quality diet, specific to their age, breed and any underlying health issues.”

While feeding your pet a high-quality diet will also benefit your pet’s skin, coat and teeth, it’s still important to establish a grooming routine, especially for senior pets. Dr. Wimmers recommends regularly bathing and brushing your pet to help prevent matts, discover lumps and bumps, and identify changes in your pet’s fur. He also stresses the importance of brushing your pet’s teeth and taking them for dental cleanings to decrease the risk of periodontal disease.

 “Oral health is vitally important,” says Dr. Wimmers. “Poor oral health can cause tooth pain, abscesses and infections, and can even lead to more serious issues, such as heart and kidney disease.”

In addition, pets can often develop mobility issues as they age, and can suffer from arthritis, hip dysplasia, and muscle atrophy. To keep your aging pet’s bones and muscles strong, Dr. Wimmers encourages owners to work with their veterinarian to establish an activity plan that will keep them going.

“An active lifestyle will help maintain mobility and muscle in senior pets,” says Dr. Wimmers. “Your pet’s activity level should gradually transition from weekend warrior to short daily walks and a manageable exercise regime.” 

In addition to physical fitness, Dr. Wimmers encourages owners to also provide their pet with mental stimulation.

“Mental stimulation will help maintain your pet’s cognitive function, the same way it does for people,” he says. “No matter how old your pet is, you should continually challenge them with mental exercises, such as training and food puzzles, to keep their mind active and healthy.”

Incorporating physical and mental exercises into your pet’s lifestyle also helps pet owners spend more quality time with their pet, which can also be beneficial for an aging animal.

“Quality time with your pet is important,” says Dr. Wimmers. “It helps keep your pet happy, while providing an opportunity for you to monitor any changes in their overall health.”

Although it varies based on animal, breed and size, most pets are considered senior between eight and 10 years of age. If your pet is entering their golden years, speak with your veterinarian to establish an age-related wellness plan specific to your pet’s needs.

With guidance from your veterinarian, you can help your pet age gracefully while allowing them to spend more happy and healthy years with their best friend.

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