Healthy and happy geriatric pets

As pet parents, we want to enjoy a long and happy life with our four-legged companions but, like us, they age and, with ageing, come ailments that need medical attention. To keep our pets healthy as they age means more than regular vet visits.

A dog is considered ‘senior’ from the age of six to eight years (depending on the breed and size), and a cat from the age of eight. Senior pets have very specific requirements in order to cope with the effects of ageing, and to extend their lives. However, it’s important to note that getting the best out of your pet’s golden years starts way before the time.


What to do before your pet gets old

  1. Feed a good-quality diet. From puppyhood, diet plays a vital role in ensuring healthy development. The right nutrition in dogs can help with arthritis prevention and, in cats, it prevents certain heart conditions, so we do need to look at optimal nutrition from a very young age. Once our pets are adult dogs and cats, it is still important to feed a good-quality diet. It helps to keep the immune system healthy and prevent obesity.
  2. Do not let them get overweight. Obesity has been linked to so many health problems that plague our older pets, including arthritis, heart disease, diabetes and liver disease, to name but a few. It is astounding how bad obesity really is for your pet. And preventing obesity in old age starts by preventing obesity during his active, adult years. Slow down on those treats, snacks and biltong. A study found that small-breed dogs who were obese died up to as much as three years sooner than dogs of a similar breed and size who were not obese. It is the pet parents’ responsibility to keep their pets in shape.
  3. Annual vet visits. Having regular vet checks allows veterinarians to identify diseases early on and, the earlier the diagnosis, the more successfully these diseases can be treated. Always trust your vet, but remember that you are entitled to get a second opinion should you feel your vet is wrong, or if you want confirmation.


What do when your pet is old

  1. Pay particular attention to your pet’s diet, and feed him a diet made specifically for senior pets. These diets are rich in antioxidants, and are balanced to relieve the strain on vital organs, such as the liver and kidneys. They also promote a healthy body weight to prevent obesity. Do not let him get overweight.
  2. Regular vet visits are vital to look for diseases related to old age. These include kidney disease, liver disease, heart disease and arthritis. Most of these illnesses are not evident until they are quite advanced. So, early detection through a routine vet check-up offers the optimal outcome. It is highly recommended that routine blood tests are performed to look for kidney and liver disease. Weight checks also form part of these visits.
  3. Keep them active. Active pets are happy pets. Exercise promotes emotional wellbeing, as well as helping to combat obesity. BUT, if you see that your pet is struggling to walk, climb or jump, he may be in pain, and you’ll need to get him to a vet. Pets hide pain very well. Therefore, it is important to pay particular attention to his movement as he ages. If he struggles to jump or climb onto a favourite sleeping spot, he may have arthritis. Don’t over-exercise, rather seek veterinary advice first.


Stay healthy

Vital organs, such as the liver and kidneys, age as our pets age. In contrast to the kidneys, the liver has a dramatic reserve capacity, as well as the ability to heal. So, unless there is dramatic damage, the liver can heal to a large degree.

The most common causes of severe liver damage are toxins. These can come from plants (such as cycads and grapes), bacteria, fungi (some moulds produce aflatoxins, which are poisonous carcinogens and mutagens) and foodstuffs such as xylitol (sweetener). The easiest way to avoid liver damage is to avoid these toxins.

Another way to help guard the liver against ‘wear and tear’ is to feed a good-quality diet that is rich in animal protein and fish-based omega-3 fatty acids. And, once again, avoid obesity (am I sounding like a stuck record?). This point can’t be stressed enough – obesity remains one of the most devastating health conditions for any pet.


By Dr Morné de Wet is the senior veterinarian and surgeon at Cottage Veterinary Clinic in Gordon’s Bay –


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