While we might not want to think about our pet getting on in years, our fur babies will inevitably get older.
The signs may be subtle at first, some grey hair speckled in their coat and a bit hard of hearing. But, unlike humans, they can’t speak up and tell us what's going on. Thankfully, Dr Cherlene Lee, veterinarian and owner of Sydney based My Vet Hospital, has some top tips for caring for your fur baby as they get older.
Keep them warm
Arthritis is a common ailment for pets in their later years and can cause pain and discomfort.
“If you notice your dog or cat has become less willing to jump around or go for walks, it’s time to pay your vet a visit,” Dr Lee suggests.
While arthritis is not curable, there are certainly things that can slow down the progression and make them more comfortable.
“Make sure you give them softer bedding and warm blankets so their joints don’t get stiff in the morning, especially in colder months,” she says.
New age, new diet
“Switching to a senior diet will help reduce the risk of problems such as obesity, gastrointestinal and joint problems,” Dr Lee explains. “Both dogs and cats will benefit from eating food made specifically for their age.”
Dr Lee recommends selecting a senior pet food that’s specifically designed to suit the breed and size of your pet.
"Always consult with your vet to see which diet is best for your pet’s individual needs, especially if there are any underlying conditions such as kidney, heart, liver or joint disease," she says.
Maintain good oral hygiene
Teeth issues and gum disease is common in ageing pets, so a good dental care plan is vital.
“Brushing their teeth regularly, dental chews, mouth rinse for pets and dental kibbles are all important,” Dr Lee stresses.
Since teeth brushing isn’t a smooth process, unless you’ve been doing it since day dot, it will take a few weeks for them to get used to it.
“Start by flipping their lips and touching their teeth/gums with your fingers,” Dr Lee advises.
After your pet becomes accustomed to this, you can start mimicking the toothbrush action by softly rubbing your finger on all their teeth.
Once they can withstand around 1-2 minutes of this, you can upgrade to a vet-approved toothpaste and toothbrush.
“Never use human toothpaste and brush their teeth gently, on a daily basis,” she says.
If you’re doing all this and your furry friend still has off-smelling breath, it could be a sign of kidney disease or gastric ulceration, Dr Lee warns.
Annual blood test
It’s routine for humans to get blood tests during a regular health check so why shouldn’t our pets?
“On average, a cat or dog ages seven to eight human years every year so a yearly blood test really can’t hurt,” she says. After all, a blood test can uncover much more than a physical examination can.
“A blood test can reveal early signs of kidney disease where a regular health check may not pick up. Kidneys are such powerhouses that they may not show any signs of disease until they lose three quarters of their function,” she says.
While some changes in usual behaviour can be passed off as old age, others can be a red flag for something more serious.
“Look for signs such as going to the toilet in the wrong spot, staring into space for a long time, getting stuck between the furniture or changing their sleeping pattern,” she says.
While cognitive dysfunction - a pet's equivalent to human dementia - cannot be cured, medication and supplements can slow deterioration.
“It’s very important for owners to understand that no matter how old your pet is, they are the same old fluffy fur ball and love you just as much as they did five years ago – they just need a little help from you and your vet,” Dr Lee says.