By Katie King
The number of pets living longer is increasing thanks to better veterinary care and nutrition. Once a ten-year-old dog (seventy in “dog years”) was considered to be an old-timer, but today it is not unusual for mid-sized to small dogs to live to their late teens or even 20s. (Large dogs generally have a shorter lifespan.) Cats from age one to between seven and ten are generally considered to be in their maintenance years, but after age twelve are “seniors.” Still, with the proper care their golden years can be rewarding for you and your pet.
1. Watch their weight.
Obesity in dogs and cats causes high blood pressure, breathing problems, diabetes, and joint pain. Overfeeding is the biggest culprit. Consult your vet to determine the kind and amount of food your pet needs for his stage of life. Remember, what might have been ideal for your frisky youngster, is not necessarily the right “chow” for your aging pal. Also check the ingredients to be sure your pet is receiving a balanced, nutrient rich diet.
2. Make sure your pets are well-hydrated.
Give your pet fresh water every day, with plenty of top offs during hot weather. Make sure their water dish is kept clean and is in a convenient location so your pet has ample access.
If your aging pet has problems lapping from a low dish, consider replacing their old food and water bowls with a raised feeder so they don’t have to strain those old joints. Monitor their food and water intake. If you notice that your pet is eating or drinking less than usual, talk to your vet. Changes in eating and drinking can indicate a health problem.
3. Give your pet regular exercise.
Our pets are not so different from us when it comes to exercise. With age can come a lack of mobility unless we make a special effort to be sure they keep the old joints working and the heart pumping. For dogs, a regular walk each day can keep you both moving and also provides a time for him to get some undivided attention from you. Keep your cats playful with toys or adopt a feline friend so they won’t be alone.
4. Don’t skip vet appointments.
It’s tempting to miss those vet appointments when our pets seem healthy, especially in tough economic times when we are juggling tight budgets. But, since our pets can’t tell us if they are not feeling up to par, the regular visit to the vet is crucial to keep your pet healthy. As your pet ages you may need to bring him in more frequently – every six months, instead of every year. Your vet is trained to spot conditions and concerns you can’t see.
5. Don’t forget dental hygiene.
Your pet’s dental care is more important than you may know. It’s the most common major health problem affecting cats and dogs. Check your pet’s teeth and gums about once a week. Feed them treats designed to promote dental health and keep an eye out for signs of dental and gum problems, including bad breath, lethargy, decreased appetite, weight loss and facial swelling. If your pet won’t “allow” you to brush his teeth, talk to your vet about scheduling regular cleanings.
6. Spay or neuter your pet.
Spaying or neutering your pet doesn’t just prevent overpopulation, it can protect your pet from various reproductive cancers. It can also help keep your pets from wandering away from home (or escaping even the best fence) in search of a mate. Spayed females won’t go into heat, with all the problems associated with that. For female cats, it’s a condition that could happen every three to four weeks during breeding season.
For more about how to keep your pet healthy and looking forward to a long life, visit the website of the American Veterinary Medical Association, www.avma.org, where a wealth of information is available on pet wellness, preventive care, first aid tips, vaccinations, emergency preparedness, and a host of other topics relevant to the caring pet owner.