1. Slowing metabolic rate and activity level
Your pet's body may change in the following ways:
- An increase in body fat - Older pets have a tendency to gain weight and become obese. Obesity is unhealthy at any age but is a particular concern with older animals. They are more likely to have heart and lung problems, joint problems and are an anesthetic risk. Obese older dogs tend to live shorter lives.
- If you or your veterinarian notice weight gain in your pet at any age, a weight loss program should be initiated. Your veterinarian will recommend a diet that is suitable for your pet
- Do not just feed less of your pet's current diet; you may be depriving your pet of essential vitamins, minerals, protein, etc.
- Many older pets require a diet that is restricted in calories (lower in fat) and higher in fiber, yet still provides enough protein, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals to keep them healthy.
- If your pet enjoys treats, not a problem. Many older pets enjoy raw carrots, a piece of dry melba toast, a cucumber slice etc. Try a small amount of any treat first and make sure your pet does not have a problem digesting it. If you are not sure whether a treat is safe for your pet, ask your veterinarian first. Please be careful with rawhide chews - as dental health deteriorates our older dogs often don't chew them properly and could be at risk for choking or intestinal obstruction.
- Your veterinarian may recommend regular daily activity (leashed walks) coupled with a diet change to help your pet lose weight. Make an appointment to talk about it.
- A decrease in the amount of lean body tissue (you may notice the loss of muscle mass especially in the faces of many older pets)
- It's important that your older pet gets high-quality protein to supply him/her with enough essential amino acids to help minimize loss of muscle mass. The protein your older pet eats should be of the highest quality, and easy to digest and absorb (you cannot tell this from a pet food label). You get what you pay for when it comes to most things in life, including pet food. Check with your veterinarian for diet recommendations.
- A blood and urine screen are recommended to help assess your pet's general health status, including his/her ability to absorb and use protein adequately.
- Decrease in total body water: older pets are prone to becoming dehydrated.
- Make sure your older dog is never deprived of water.
- If you leave your pet at the clinic, with a sitter, at a boarding establishment etc. make sure someone notices if the pet is drinking. Never take the water away from an older pet
- If you have several pets, please make sure the older pets have a chance to eat and drink without the younger pets crowding in.
- A urine sample assessment helps determine if your pet has kidney disease or diabetes.
2. Declining Vision:
Eye changes often begin around 7-8 years of life; senile or age related cataract formation is common in pets older than 12. Eye changes may be due to disease elsewhere in the body. For example, hypertension can affect the eyes; cataracts may be due to diabetes.
- It is important to have your pet's eyes examined at least yearly. Your veterinarian may be able to help the patient with glaucoma, cataracts, hypertension, etc.
- If changes are age related and not correctable, keep your pet's environment as stable as possible. Blind animals adjust to where furniture is located and use their other senses to help them function happily in their environment. Consider a child's gate in front of staircases to help prevent a fall.
- Make sure the older pets are leash-walked and not allowed to roam free. Poor vision increases their risk of being injured by a car or another animal. Walking at night with a flashlight may help older dogs with compromised night vision. Leashes with built in flashlights are now available.
- If you notice squinting, discharge from the eye's, redness or pain on petting the animal's head or face, have the eyes checked immediately as these may be signs of glaucoma or uveitis which are very painful and can lead to permanent blindness.
Hint: As older pets with declining vision do not adapt quickly to new surroundings, consider having someone stay in your home with your pet if you need to be away.
3. Hearing Loss:
This tends to be very gradual in the aging animal
- Appreciate that hearing loss is gradual.
- Older dogs may bite if startled (they can't see or hear as well).
- Warn children and others not to go near a sleeping dog. Wait until the dog is awake and approach him or her to say hello.
4. Loss of Sense of Smell:
Sense of smell is critical to enjoying a meal
- Feed a highly nutritious, well-balanced diet and enhance the odor of food to encourage the older pet to eat. How? Warm canned food (20-30 seconds in the microwave), sprinkle with garlic powder (not salt), use more canned food, small amounts of cooked chicken, liver plus broth, yogurt or cottage cheese to encourage the picky eater.
5. Skin & Coat Changes:
As your pets age, their coat may become dull and lusterless. Some dogs develop callus formation over their elbows while others have nails that are brittle and prone to breaking. Older animals have more skin lumps and bumps.
- Groom your dog on a regular basis. This will help remove shedding hair and debris and will allow you to find lumps, bumps, dandruff, etc., which may be hidden under the coat. If you're not comfortable doing it yourself, try a professional groomer.
- Older pets should visit their veterinarian at least twice a year. The sooner a skin lump or bump is found, the quicker a diagnosis can be made. Many of the skim lumps and bumps are benign and nothing needs to be done other than keeping an eye on them. Some lumps need to be removed and the sooner the better.
- Many older pets require more frequent nail trimming to prevent problems. Your veterinarian can show you how to do this, do it for you, or you may wish to take your pet to a groomer or veterinarian to have it done.
- The addition of fatty acids to their diet may help maintain a shiny, healthy coat in your older pet.
- To prevent callus formation, make sure your pet has clean, soft bedding to sleep on.
As animals age they tend to become less active and are more prone to constipation. Stools will become less frequent and your pet may display straining. Obese animals are at risk.
- Make sure your pet is defecating on a daily basis. Note if your pet has any trouble passing the stool and if so, contact your veterinarian.
- Many older animals benefit from having some fiber (prunes, psyllium husks or a small amount of olive oil) in their diet. Coupled with daily activity, this may keep your older pet regular.
- Check with you veterinarian for diet recommendations.
- Most older dogs enjoy a walk about 20-30 minutes after eating (they often defecate at this time).
7. Behavior Changes:
Aging in both people and pets may cause changes within the brain. There is an actual drop in the weight of the brain and the way it processes information. Older pets may seem confused or disoriented. They may sleep more, lose housetraining, or become disinterested in their environment and sometimes their owner.
- Be patient with your older pet!
- If you are concerned about your older pet's behavior, see your veterinarian. There are medications that may help.
- Keep your pet as active as possible.
- It sometimes helps to leave a light or radio on in the room your pet sleeps in.
8. Heat & Cold Intolerance:
As your pets age, they become more susceptible to extremes in temperature (they "feel" the cold more so than a younger pet and they may have a decreased tolerance to heat). They produce less of the hormones needed to maintain normal body temperature.
- You may find that walks have to be a little shorter.
- An older dog that lives outside may need more shelter.
- In the summer, don't leave your older pet outdoors without proper shelter from the sun and lots of water.
- Your older pet should never be left in a vehicle in the summer (even if the air conditioner is running).