Senior pets most commonly experience discomfort or pain because of osteoarthritis, dental disease, or other uncomfortable conditions. However, many other health issues can also decrease your older pet’s quality of life (QOL). You must carefully assess factors such as your pet’s comfort, happiness, and health, and decide whether you can improve their enjoyment of life or whether you need to to prevent them from further suffering.

How to assess your senior pet’s quality of life

Assessing your senior pet’s QOL can be challenging, but many scales are available that can help. One of the most popular, the HHHHHMM scale created by Dr. Alice Villalobos, covers the most important categories for evaluating your pet’s health and happiness. They include:

  • Hurt
  • Hunger
  • Hydration
  • Hygiene
  • Happiness
  • Mobility
  • More good days than bad

If your pet scores well in all categories, you are successfully managing their advancing age or chronic condition. However, if your pet is not eating or drinking enough to stay properly nourished, or pain that is difficult to control is interfering with their mobility, their QOL dips. The first step in supporting your aging pet is determining the areas that need improvement.

How to encourage your senior pet to eat and drink

Is your senior pet turning up their nose at their usual bowl of kibble? Are they drinking less? First, determine if a health issue is making eating or drinking difficult. Dental disease is one of the most common problems that affects senior pets, and crunchy food can become painful to eat. Other common conditions that affect appetite and water intake include osteoarthritis, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, and kidney and liver disease.

Once a potential health issue has been treated or is appropriately managed, get creative with your pet’s nutrition. Offer canned food heated up in the microwave to produce a tantalizing aroma, mix cooked veggies into your pet’s meals, or top off their bowl with a few bites of well-cooked lean meat. You may need to encourage eating by hand feeding your pet for a while, or elevating food and water bowls to reduce strain on arthritic joints. Your pet may drink more from a water fountain that constantly cycles fresh water or water that is flavored with a small amount of low-sodium chicken broth. Offer multiple options to learn your pet’s preference.

How to improve your senior pet’s mobility

The ability to safely and comfortably navigate from resting areas, to food and water, to an elimination spot often declines as pets age, but, fortunately, you can assist your senior pet’s mobility problems by:

  • Applying traction aids — Apply adhesive grit or nail caps to your pet’s paws and nails to help them find purchase while walking. 
  • Covering slick flooring — Hardwood flooring may look beautiful, but your senior pet would appreciate a carpet runner or yoga-mat pathway to assist them in traversing this slick terrain.
  • Installing ramps — If your furry pal can no longer jump on your bed or into your lap, install a ramp next to provide easy access. Your pet may also need a ramp to bypass stairs or to help them get in your vehicle.
  • Using a harness or sling — Large pets who can no longer use their hind legs effectively to walk can benefit from a harness or sling that supports their weight.

How to manage your senior pet’s pain

Senior pets experience pain from many conditions, including osteoarthritis, nausea, dental disease, or cancer. Identifying your pet’s source of pain allows our team to provide the most effective management. Oftentimes, multimodal therapy that attacks pain in different ways is most effective, and we may recommend:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (i.e., NSAIDs)
  • Alternative pain medications (e.g., opioids, monoclonal antibodies)
  • Chiropractic care
  • Acupuncture
  • Laser therapy
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Joint supplements
  • Prescription diets
  • Surgery

Together, we can determine the most effective strategy for keeping your pet’s pain at bay.

If your senior pet appears to be suffering from a decreased quality of life, contact our Belmont Animal Hospital team. We can make recommendations that will help your four-legged friend make the most of their golden years, and guide you on their final journey.