Tips to help pets age gracefully, and stay happy and healthy

Nearly half of all American pet parents have a furry companion who’s 7 years of age or older, according to a survey of pet owners by market research firm Packaged Facts. Just as humans are living longer, advances in pet nutrition, veterinary care and quality of life mean our dogs and cats are living longer, too. Fortunately, pet parents can do a lot to ensure their pets stay happy and healthy for as long as possible.

“Pets are living longer and it’s wonderful when people get to spend those extra years with their beloved pets,” says Dr. Ellen I. Lowery, director of U.S. Veterinary and Professional Affairs at Hill’s Pet Nutrition. “However, age brings certain inevitable changes, and the care people give their pets should evolve to meet those changes. Nutrition, physical activity, veterinary visits and rest time — older pets have needs that can differ significantly from what was good for them when they were young. We want them to live longer and stay healthy throughout their life.”

Lowery and the pet pros at Hill’s Pet Nutrition offer parents of aging pets some advice on helping their feline and canine companions stay as healthy as possible.

Feline facts

Although every cat is an individual and longevity can vary from breed to breed, domestic cats can commonly live 15 to 17 years. Many indoor cats can live even longer. Cats are considered “senior” once they reach the age of 7, and while your 8-year-old kitty may continue to be spry, you’ll likely see signs she’s growing older. These can include:

* Arthritis.

* Decreased mobility and agility.

* Weight changes.

* Decreased sensory acuity.

* Dental disease.

* Light sensitivity.

* Heart or circulatory problems.

Her fur may lose its glossiness and her nails become brittle. She may experience digestive difficulties and have trouble grooming herself as well as she used to. Her sleep patterns may change, she may have accidents outside the litter box, and she may be less patient than her younger sweet self, or become irritable or confused.

Pup pointers

Breed and size have a lot to do with a dog’s life expectancy, but typically all dogs 8 and older will start to show signs of brain aging. He’ll always be your pup, but as he enters his senior years, your dog may:

* Have accidents indoors and no longer ask to go outside.

* Fail to greet family members or recognize familiar people or places.

* Reject petting or attention.

* No longer respond to verbal cues.

* Sleep more during the day and less at night.

* Wander, pace, or seem lost/confused.

As his brain ages, your dog may also experience some mobility problems such as stiff joints.

What you can do

Growing older is a natural part of life for dogs and cats, and pet parents can take steps to ensure their pets remain comfortable, happy and healthy throughout their lives.

“Balanced nutrition is a key factor in healthy aging for both dogs and cats,” Lowery says. “As your pet ages, regularly consult your veterinarian for any concerns and be sure to take your pet to see him or her twice a year for checkups, and more frequently if your pet has a health condition.”

Talk to your veterinarian about how your pet’s activity levels, sleep patterns and nutritional needs are changing. He or she will likely recommend that your senior pet should eat food that is specially formulated for older pets. Smaller to medium-sized dogs should switch to a mature-dog food around age seven, and for larger breeds it may be appropriate to make the transition as early as five years old. As you’re switching your dog to a senior food, remember to do so gradually. Mix his current food with the new food over several days, steadily decreasing the amount of the old food until your dog is eating only the new food.

To learn more about pet nutrition at any age, visit www.hillspet.com.


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