Preventive Wellness Care involves doing the best we can throughout our pet’s life to lay the foundation for the longest, healthiest life possible. It focuses on all components of health care that influence longevity such as nutrition, weight control, dental care, rehabilitation, and therapeutic exercises. A pet’s life span and disease risk are heavily influenced by genetics, the nutrition of its mother, the breed of the pet along with many other factors. It is much easier to influence these factors when we are proactive about possible diseases at a young age.
Preventive care can be easily overlooked when more prevalent injuries and illnesses arise. However, it’s vital to maintain annual health checkups for full examinations so that patients can be helped far more effectively when diseases are diagnosed and treated in their early stages. Even the healthiest of pets can have some form of underlying disease without showing obvious clinical signs. Yearly examinations allow veterinarians the opportunity to diagnose early, which allows for a chance to intervene early. Simply put, early detection leads to better/more hopeful outcome.
All pets, particularly seniors, should have blood work at every annual examination. Older pets may appear healthy but still have underlying problems that can be detected with a full blood panel. Approximately 18% of middle-aged and/or cats older than 7 that appear healthy upon physical exam, have an underlying disease such as hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, pancreatitis, diabetes, or other health problems that need diagnosis and treatment. Likewise, 23% of senior dogs that appear healthy on physical exam have some form of underlying disease. As many as 5% of young pets that appear healthy upon physical exam may also have underlying disease. Treating disease in senior pets is multifaceted, including nutrition evaluation, weight management, supplements, oncology, pain management, exercise and physical therapy, environmental accommodation, etc.
The essentials of senior pet care include:
Nutrition and Weight Management
Overweight pets are 5 times more likely to have arthritis, a very common ailment in older pets. Extra weight in animals adds extra pressure and strain on their joints. Keeping senior pets at a healthy body condition score will dramatically improve their quality of life.
Old arthritic pets have painful joints decreasing their mobility and preventing them from doing activities that they used to love and may struggle with their balance. Gentle leash walks and therapeutic exercises is very beneficial for them to regain strength and balance. Most older pets benefit from rehabilitation and acupuncture for safe pain management. These modalities can increase their joint mobility and fluidity, balance, and stability which ultimately increases their quality of life.
Foods and Supplements
The food we choose for senior pets should be highly digestible, have the correct amount of fatty acids, antioxidants, and fiber. It is important to ensure the diet you choose for your senior pet is suitable for the health condition he/she has. Most senior pets benefit from supplementing their diet with Glucosamine, Chondroitin, fish oil, and Probiotics.
Oral cavity disorders and advanced stages of periodontal disease are often overlooked as the cause of significant illness in older pets. Infections underneath the gums, on and around the teeth, and in the mouth can lead to disorders in other body systems including kidney, liver, and heart. Dental hygiene is essential for preventing disease and increasing the life span of pets. Annual dental scaling and polishing as well as at-home teeth brushing can prevent your pet’s teeth decay and incidences of oral diseases such as periodontal disease. Ensure that you follow your veterinarian’s recommendations regarding dental care.
Behavior changes such as confusion, aimless wandering around the house, getting trapped in a corner, aggression, and changes in elimination behavior are common in senior pets. Just as in humans, some body systems may fail including sight or hearing. Be sure to use and stimulate your pet’s intelligence to improve the quality of their lives. If you have a senior dog with good vision, you can teach signals that will not only strengthen the bond between you, but will also serve as a back-up if hearing fails. Signals are a more natural language for our pets than words.
For old arthritic pets it might be hard to maneuver throughout the house. Adding ramps, steps, blocking the stairs might be needed to keep them safe and comfortable. Older cats usually have impaired thermoregulation (ability to regulate body temperature), and benefit from a safe heat source such as a heating pad.
In a laboratory study of older dogs done over a 2-year period, environmental enrichment (e.g., housing with another dog, playing daily with toys) was shown to be an effective tool for task learning. In fact, the combined effect of a special diet and enriched environment provided the greatest improvement in learning ability when compared to the dogs who did not have either.
It is highly recommended to check your pet’s health regularly. Looking after your senior pet is simply about caring for the one you love. Provide them with healthy food, keep them physically and mentally active and take care of their teeth and they will be that happy puppy on the inside as they move to their senior years!
Want to learn more about developing your own pet’s senior care plan? Call Legacy Veterinary Clinic– We love to be there for you and your pet!