If you have a senior pet, you know they are wonderful companions who provide constant love, loyalty, and comfort. These exceptional cats and dogs deserve to remain happy and comfortable during their final years, but they require additional care and attention to meet their needs. Our Palm Valley Veterinary Center team recognizes your desire to provide appropriate care for your senior pet, and we provide tips to optimize your four-legged family member’s quality of life (QOL) as they enter their golden years. 

No. 1: Schedule more frequent wellness visits for your senior pet

All pets are excellent at hiding vulnerabilities such as illness, and senior pets are at higher risk for health complications. This means they should be evaluated every six months by a veterinary professional to help detect issues in the early stages when they are easier to manage. A typical senior pet wellness exam involves:

  • Physical examination — Our veterinary team thoroughly evaluates your pet to detect issues such as cataracts, dental disease, heart abnormalities, and abdominal masses.
  • Blood work — We perform a complete blood count (CBC) and biochemistry profile to evaluate your pet’s health status and detect issues such as anemia, electrolyte imbalances, diabetes, and liver and kidney disease. We may also recommend a thyroid panel, since senior pets are at increased thyroid disease risk.
  • Vaccinations — Senior pets must be up to date on their vaccinations to protect against infectious diseases. Our veterinary team will determine an appropriate vaccine schedule for your aging four-legged friend.
  • Parasite control — Parasites, such as heartworms, fleas, ticks, and intestinal worms, can cause senior pets significant health problems, and a wellness visit is the perfect opportunity to ensure your pet is parasite free and to discuss parasite prevention options.

No. 2: Keep your senior pet at a healthy weight

Excess weight predisposes pets to health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and arthritis. In addition, overweight pets frequently have mobility and breathing difficulties, which inhibits their QOL. Recommendations to keep your senior pet trim and fit include:

  • Calculating your pet’s energy requirements — Pets typically need fewer calories as they get older. Consider your pet’s age and activity level and adjust their daily calorie intake accordingly.
  • Monitoring your pet’s weight — Weigh your pet and assess their body condition score (BCS) regularly, so you can detect changes, prevent unwanted weight gain, and notice unexplained weight loss, which could indicate illness.

No. 3: Provide appropriate dental care for your senior pet

Many senior pets suffer from periodontal disease that interferes with their ability to eat and may cause organ damage if the bacteria spread throughout their body. Recommendations to promote your pet’s dental hygiene include:

  • Brushing your pet’s teeth — Daily toothbrushing is important to remove accumulated plaque. Your pet may need time to get used to the idea, but pet-friendly toothpaste flavors, such as poultry, beef, and peanut butter, can make the process more agreeable.
  • Professional dental cleaning — Your senior pet should also have their teeth evaluated and cleaned by a veterinary professional about once a year. These procedures allow our veterinary team to fully assess your pet’s dental health and remove damaging bacteria from under their gum line.

No. 4: Know how to assess your senior pet’s quality of life

Consult a QOL scale to help you determine if your pet is comfortable and happy. A common scale used is the HHHHHMM scale which evaluates seven factors that are graded on a 1 to 10 scale. An accumulative score higher than 35 indicates the pet’s QOL is acceptable. Considerations include:

  • Hurt — Is your pet in pain? Can their pain be successfully managed? Do they have difficulty breathing?
  • Hunger — Is your pet eating enough? Do they need a feeding tube?
  • Hydration — Is your pet drinking enough? Can you administer subcutaneous fluids if they are dehydrated? Does your pet tolerate the procedure?
  • Hygiene — Can your pet keep themselves well groomed? Do they have pressure sores?
  • Happiness — Does your pet seem happy doing activities that typically bring them joy?
  • Mobility — Does your pet need assistance to move? Are you able to assist them if necessary and move them frequently enough to prevent bed sores?
  • More good days than bad — Keep track of your pet’s good days and bad days, and when their bad days outnumber their good ones, talk to our veterinary team about next steps for your pet.

No. 5: Make home adjustments for your senior pet

Simple home adjustments can improve your senior pet’s QOL. Recommendations include:

  • Provide a supportive bed — Many senior pets suffer from arthritis, and a comfortable, supportive bed in an easily accessible location helps ensure they can rest their achy joints.
  • Raise their bowls — Older pets may find reaching their food and water bowls difficult if they have neck or shoulder pain. Raise their bowls to make them easy to reach.
  • Place ramps — If your senior pet has a favorite elevated resting area, place a ramp or stairs near the location, so they don’t have to jump to access the spot.
  • Provide a low sided litter box — Senior cats may have difficulty navigating their litter box. Provide a low-sided litter box to ensure they can easily access their toilet—which will also help prevent inappropriate elimination in your home.

These tips should help you optimize your senior pet’s QOL. If you would like to schedule a wellness examination or a professional dental cleaning, contact our Palm Valley Veterinary Center team, so we can help improve your pet’s golden years.