Health, advice, and information online community for dog and cat lovers.

Caring for Geriatric Pets

Geriatric pets are pets that have an advanced age where the body tends to begin to break down, making them more susceptible to injury and disease.  In dogs, this age is generally considered to be between 8-12 years, for cats, 10-12 years.   Please bear in mind that these are general age ranges that all pets do not necessarily fall into, as not all pets age equally.

Since disease and injury are more prevalent in geriatric dog and cats, special considerations should be taken to maximize their longevity, minimize pain, and maintain optimal quality of life.

Nutrition

The first consideration for a geriatric pet is nutritional.  Every geriatric pet should be fed a high quality senior diet.  Diets such as these:

–           Have increased anti-oxidants to scavenge free radicals that are generated to a higher degree in geriatric animals.

–          Are lower in fat content for geriatric pets that tend to have increased body fat.

–          Are higher in protein to encourage maintenance of lean muscle, something that progressively diminishes in geriatric dogs and cats.

–          Have higher fiber content to promote gastrointestinal health that tends to wane with age.

Ask your veterinarian for senior dietary recommendations.

Semi-Yearly Examinations

Yearly examinations are a must for geriatric pets, but I advise taking it a step further to twice yearly examination.  One year represents 5-7 years of a canine’s and feline’s life and no one would advise a geriatric person to be examined only once every 5-7 years.  Blood pressure screening should be included in every geriatric examination, ideally combined with general wellness blood screening for early disease detection.

Veterinary Grade Joint Chews

I have done a lot of reporting on the efficacy of joint health supplement compounds, such as glucosamine, MSM, chondroitin, and omega-3-fatty acids.  These compounds help to restore the cartilaginous surfaces of joints, increase joint fluid production, restore the integrity of tendons, ligaments, and other connective tissues, and naturally reduce inflammation.

 I favor products that contain not just one or some of these compounds, but all of them.  I also insist that they must be pharmaceutical grade.  These products are not FDA or USDA regulated, and therefore are not subject to any oversight whatsoever.  As such, there are a lot of bad products on the market that do not have the ingredients they claim, or are not processed into a form that is optimally absorbed by the canine or feline gut.  The best source for information on joint health supplements for pets is your veterinarian.

Exercise

While geriatric pets should not be pushed to a level of exercise that can do them harm, it is important to maintain a certain level of moderate exercise to maintain lean muscle and muscle tone, cardiovascular health, and joint/spinal mobility.  For dogs it is a simple manner of putting them on a leash and walking them at a medium pace for 30 – 45 minutes once or twice a day.  For cats, it is usually not that simple, so it is important to often get creative with laser pointers, cat toys, and/or give them vertical access with kitty jungle gyms.

DO NOT OVERDO EXERCISE.  If the pet is excessively panting, limping, or showing any kind of distress from exercise, cut it back to a point where it is less taxing.  Always keep in mind that moderate geriatric exercise is meant to prevent harm, not cause it.

Take Weight Management Seriously

The worst thing a geriatric pet could be is obese.  Obesity stresses aging joints, muscles and bones, aggravating existing arthritis, predisposing to serious injuries like ACL tears and spinal disk injuries.  Obesity the cardiovascular and other taxes organ systems, and predisposes the pet to diabetes.

Keeping a pet obese is the fastest avenue to accelerating the aging process and deteriorating the health of geriatric pets.

Geriatric pets have given a lifetime of loving companionship.  In their old age, they appear distinguished with their greying hair coats and beards, are no longer prone to being destructive or hyper, and have a dignified demeanor that years of living have imparted them with.  Geriatric pets by in large are the lowest maintenance they have been in their lives, but still offer the same companionship and devotion they showed as younger animals…perhaps even more so.  By following these aforementioned measures, we do our part to make sure we keep them around as long as possible with the best possible quality of life.

Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital and CEO/Chief Editor of the veterinary information and blog online community, Web-DVM.

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