By Traci D. Howerton – Animal Rescue New Orleans

September is senior pet wellness month. By definition, any pet over the age of seven is considered a senior. However, small breeds can live upwards of 20 years, so seven is really just on the cusp of hitting middle-aged. Large and giant breed dogs generally have a much shorter life span and can be considered seniors as early as five years of age.

Just like humans, your pet’s needs change as he ages. Proper nutrition and a healthy lifestyle can make a huge difference in preventing age-related diseases and preserving quality of life for your pet.

Here are some tips to help make your pet’s senior years golden.

Routine vet visits – Although most vaccinations are given annually, it is important to bring your pet for a semi annual check up between those annual visits, especially as he reaches his golden years. Early detection is key to a successful treatment of ailments, so an extra visit during the year is encouraged. Preventative blood screening and urinalysisis are recommended for senior pets and should be started at the age of seven. Changes in kidney, liver and pancreatic function, arthritis, cataracts, heart disease and high blood pressure are more common in older pets and can be detected during regular check ups and lab work.

Monitor behavior – Just like humans, our pets tend to slow down and become less active as they age. However, if your pet displays signs of confusion, disorientation, lethargy, loss of appetite, weight gain, weight loss, frequent potty accidents, etc. it could be a sign of a more serious condition.

Practice good nutrition – As our pets change with age, so do their dietary needs. As they become older and less active, it is easy for them to pack on the pounds. Look for pet foods formulated especially for senior pets. These foods are designed to meet senior nutritional needs, help manage weight and contain additional vitamins and minerals.

Exercise and mental stimulation – Exercise helps your senior pet maintain a healthy body weight and can slow the onset of arthritis. Walking is excellent exercise for your aging pet. Mental stimulation is also a great way to keep your pet on his toes. Fun toys and interactive play can keep his mind and body active.

Good dental care is key – Dental care is just as important for pets as it is for humans. Regular dental cleanings by your vet and proper brushing at home can prevent gum disease, which can lead to more serious conditions for your pet.

Keep your pet safe – As your pet ages, he may experience loss of sight and/or hearing. When he was a puppy, you puppy-proofed your home; now you may need to put some of those safety measures back into place. Remove potentially dangerous objects and use a gate or kennel to create a safe space for your pet when you are not home.

Keep him comfortable – Senior pets sometimes suffer from arthritis or other joint problems, and this can make it more difficult for them to get around. Consider pet ramps or steps to make getting into bed or on the sofa easier. For joint pain, there are orthopedic pet beds, some with heating elements, to help relieve pressure on the joints. Also, physical contact is wanted more than ever in your pet’s golden years, so be sure to give him belly rubs, gentle massages and lots of brushing and petting.

With proper care and attention, pets can live longer, happier lives. Your pet’s golden years are an opportunity to give him back some of the unconditional love and loyalty that he has shown you throughout the years.