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  • Writer's pictureAlissa Anderson

Helpful Hints for Caring for a Senior Pet: Monitoring at Home

As our beloved pets grow older, naturally they start experiencing changes to their health and overall condition, just like humans do. There is no substitute to for a senior pet getting a veterinary checkup every 6 months, but what about in between vet visits? Fortunately, there are also many things you can monitor at home! Once you know what is normal for your pet, you can more easily and more quickly pick up changes when they are not feeling well. By monitoring certain aspects of your pet's behavior (including daily habits) and environment, you have the best chance of detecting early signs of potential issues and providing timely intervention if indicated.

In this blog post, we will discuss the essential things to monitor at home as your pet ages, allowing you to give them the best possible care and support during their golden years.

1. Weight:

Keeping a close eye on your senior pet's weight is crucial! Weight loss or gain can be indicative of underlying health problems such as dental issues, metabolic disorders, or organ dysfunction. Regularly weigh your pet (once a month at their Lumps N Bumps check – check out our Lumps N Bumps blog post for more info - is a great starting point!) and consult with your veterinarian if you notice any significant changes. There are many Body Condition Score info-graphics for both dogs and cats to help guide you, such as this one by Purina. Some senior pets with heart disease, liver disease, or other health conditions may start to develop abdominal fluid and swelling, so using one of these info-graphics may be necessary to truly assess your pet. Also, weight loss or gain can be difficult to see when we are around our pet every day, so I recommend taking photos or videos weekly to monthly and comparing them.

2. Appetite and Thirst:

Changes in appetite and thirst can be signs of developing health issues, including but not limited to dental disease, gastrointestinal disorders, and kidney disease. Monitor your pet's eating and drinking habits, and consult your vet if they show any significant changes, such as decreased or increased appetite, excessive thirst, or difficulty chewing. Difficulty chewing may be displayed as your pet only using one side of their mouth while eating, preference for soft foods only, or dropping food. As a rough guideline, dogs and cats should be taking in approximately 1 ounce of water/fluid per pound of body weight per day, but this amount may be different for pets with heart, kidney, or respiratory disease. Your pet should have access to clean, fresh water at all times.

3. Mobility and Exercise:

As your pet gets older, they may experience reduced mobility and joint discomfort from osteoarthritis or other orthopedic diseases. It is important to monitor their ability and willingness to move around, climb stairs, or jump onto furniture – in particular, in cats reluctance to climb or jump vertically is a HUGE indicator they are experiencing chronic or acute pain. In dogs, being notably slower to rise or slower to lay down is a sign they may be experiencing pain. In particular, if your pet is stiff when they first wake up or start moving, but then “warm up” out of it, your pet may be experiencing arthritic pain. Regular exercise appropriate for your pet’s age and breed can help maintain muscle tone and joint flexibility and is an essential part of their longevity!

4. Bathroom Habits:

Changes in your pet's bathroom habits can indicate underlying health issues, especially in aging pets. Monitor their urinary and bowel movements for any abnormalities such as difficulty urinating or defecating, accidents in the house, or changes in stool or urine consistency, color, or frequency. Inform your veterinarian if you notice any significant changes. If your pet is experiencing age-related incontinence, it is important to do your best to keep them clean and have clean, comfortable beds or bedding available to them. And remember that for senior kitties a litter box with a lower wall is essential!

5. Cognitive Function:

Just like humans, many pets experience cognitive decline as they age. Monitor your pet's behavior for signs of confusion, disorientation, memory loss, or changes in sleep patterns. Engaging them in mental stimulation activities and providing consistent routines may be hugely helpful in keeping your pet happy if they are experiencing cognitive decline. Our blog post on Doggy Dementia also talks about diet and supplements that may be helpful for brain health in senior pets! For pets with sensory deficits including vision and hearing, these scented toys by Playology are a great option!

6. Skin and Coat Condition:

Monitor your pet's skin and coat for any changes. Aging pets may develop dry, flaky skin, hair loss, or changes in coat texture. Regular grooming, a balanced diet, and appropriate supplements can help maintain a healthy skin and coat. Omega fatty acids can be a hugely beneficial in maintaining not only skin and coat health but also brain health and joint health!

7. Dental Health:

Dental problems are common in aging pets and can lead to pain, difficulty eating, and other health issues. Monitor your pet's oral hygiene, including bad breath, swollen gums, tartar buildup, or loose teeth. It's never too late to start daily teeth brushing for your pets! Regular dental check-ups are also essential to help prevent dental diseases.

As you can see, there are many ways to start monitoring your pet at home! The information you gather can also be hugely helpful to any veterinarian caring for your pet. By paying close attention to your pet’s weight, appetite, mobility, bathroom habits, cognitive function, skin and coat condition, and dental health, you can detect early signs of potential problems and provide the necessary care promptly. Remember to consult your veterinarian for professional advice and guidance tailored to your aging pet's specific needs. With proper monitoring and care, you can ensure that you are doing your best for your loved one as they navigate their golden geriatric years!!

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