I am a huge advocate for senior pets. I am often heard exclaiming "Old age is not a disease!". I get pretty grumpy with people who abandon old pets or refuse treatment, stating "He's old. I don't want to spend money on diagnostics and treatment." When you take on responsibility for a pet, that means responsibility for LIFE, not just as long as it's convenient and easy.
So what can you do to make sure your pet will be healthy in her old age? How do you avoid (hopefully) having huge bills for veterinary care late in life? Let's face it, even with the best care, systems start to fall apart with age (look at the human geriatric population to see great examples of this). But there are things you can do to help.
- Don't over-vaccinate. Core vaccines (distemper, parvo, rabies) do NOT need to be given every year. These vaccines are recommended no more often than every three years by the AVMA and AAHA, two groups that are very traditional. If they can admit vaccines are not needed every year, it's time for ALL veterinarians to follow the guidelines. Don't be bullied into annual vaccines. Get titers (blood tests) to see if your pet even needs a vaccine, once they have passed the 3 year mark since their last vaccine.
- Don't use chemicals on your pets. Use natural flea and tick preventatives if you live in a high risk area. Do not cave to the pressure to use monthly oral or topical treatments. Don't give heartworm preventative year round if you live in an area with cold winters.
- Feed a healthy, species-appropriate diet. That means REAL FOOD with real meat. No meat meals, chemicals, or dry kibble. Cats are carnivores and need a high meat diet. Dogs will have better health and live longer when fed balanced raw, freeze dried, or home prepared meals.
- Keep them active. Daily exercise is as important as diet. Joints and muscles that move are joints and muscles that stay healthy. When the weather is bad outside, play some simple games inside.
- Keep them mentally alert. Teaching your pets to play games with toys or games of search will keep their minds active and healthy.
- Use supplements wisely. I recommend a high quality probiotic and a high quality omega 3 supplement for gut, joint, brain, and heart health.
- Don't skip those annual examinations with your trusted veterinarian. A thorough examination can reveal changes that may be occurring internally that you are not seeing externally. Lab work to test kidney and liver function can give you information long before you see changes physically.
- Get your pets outside. Sunshine is an important source of external Yang, which is energy. Senior pets commonly have decreased Yang, so soaking up some sun on a cool day can be very beneficial.
- Regular grooming will help you detect lumps, bumps, skin condition, ear or eye discharge, and any changes in body shape or coat texture. Plus your pet will really enjoy the attention.
- Spend time with your pets. Remember, you are their whole world. They adore you. (Okay, cats pretend they don't need you, but they do.)
I hope your pets live to be happy seniors that stay by your side for many, many years. Sometimes, even with the best care, things go wrong. But knowing you did everything in your power to keep them healthy and safe will help through tough times.