You asked, we answered! Our latest #VirbacVetTalk series features aging pets, a situation all pet owners will inevitably face. Usually, the aging process brings about new questions, issues and ultimately, commitments for humans and their pets.
During our Q&A, learn more about how to best care for your aging pet with Dr. Cristiano von Simson DVM, MBA, Director of Field Technical Veterinarians for Virbac Corporation.
Q: Should I change my pet’s diet based on age?
A: As pets get older, their bodies might have a little more difficulty digesting and absorbing nutrients. It’s important to monitor the body condition of your pet at all ages, and even more important when they are very young or old. During the annual visit to your pet's veterinarian, make sure to discuss their diet and nutrition. Also, it’s important for your pet to receive proper dental care, so that they can appropriately chew their food. It’s common for older pets that don't get dental care to have painful problems in their mouths, which will affect their ability to eat well and maintain nourishment.
Q: How can I keep my senior pet comfortable?
A: Pets both young and old might have joint problems or other issues that can make them feel pain and restrict their ability to perform regular activities. If you notice your pet having a hard time climbing stairs or jumping on the couch, for example, it’s a sign that there could be a problem. At that point, it’s time for a visit to the vet clinic to diagnose what is happening and explore the best treatment.
As it happens with humans, the earlier we intervene with physical therapy, nutritional supplements, changes in lifestyle and sometimes, medications, the better the results are going to be. Regular exercise, good nutrition and annual visits to the doctor for wellness exams go a long way to keep pets (and owners) happy and healthy for longer.
Q: When do I know if my pet is sick or just aging?
A: Aging alone is not a reason for a pet to change its behavior or restrict its activities significantly. Here are some symptoms that would warrant a discussion with your veterinarian: your pet stops greeting you at the door when you get home, is less active, is losing or gaining weight, has a hard time navigating stairs, gets tired faster when walking or other changes in their normal behaviors. Some diseases are more common as pets get older, but these gradual changes can start in pets even at a young age. If the underlying problems are addressed, a pet should be able to remain active and comfortable as they get older.
Q: I’ve thought about getting a younger pet to keep my senior pet company. Is this a good idea?
A: In general, pets are happier if they have company, but if they are not used to having another pet in the house or are not often exposed to other pets (and depending on their personality), a new pet could be a source of stress rather than a source of joy. It might be a good idea to "borrow" a friendly pet from a friend to spend some time in your home (a day or two). This way, you can see how your pet reacts to a new companion before making a long-term commitment. If your pet receives the new friend well, then there are many benefits from having a younger pet around. They will help the older pet remain active and they can provide company and emotional support when you are not home. Also, pets learn faster by watching and imitating other pet's behavior. Therefore, training a young pet with an older pet around will be much easier.
Q: When is my dog or cat considered a senior?
A: This varies somewhat according to breed and size of dogs. It varies less for cats. The American Veterinary Medical Association provides some helpful tables to answer this question and others regarding senior pets.
Always consult with your veterinarian if you have additional aging questions.
Stay tuned for more of our #VirbacVetTalk series, where we’ll answer your questions with tweets, blog posts, videos and more!