Snuggling up with a blanket and hot chocolate around the fire – there’s something undeniably cosy about winter. While you’re going about finding ways to thaw out your frozen bones, spare a thought for your elderly pets who need special love and care during the colder months.
As pets age it’s important to keep up regular vet visits (twice a year is recommended), so that age-related concerns can be detected early, to spare your pet unnecessary suffering that is often intensified in the colder months. These health issues can generally be treated quite easily, often with prescription medications and dietary supplements to make your pet more comfortable and allow him (or her) to manage the aging process with grace and dignity.
Watch your pets closely when it’s cold. Some may spend more time sleeping inside, which conserves warmth and energy, but others that are more exposed to the cold (outdoors) may require a bit more sustenance to sustain a higher body temperature and support their higher energy requirements under winter conditions. But keep in mind that maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for older pets, since osteoarthritis is one of the most common disorders for their age group, and extra weight compounds the issue.
Complete nutrition and access to fresh water remains a top priority in winter. The nutrition that you provide for your pet can greatly assist some of the metabolic and body composition changes that are associated with old age. Generally, senior diets should be lower in calories yet still contain protein, fat and fibre but nutrient composition does vary to provide for his particular senior needs.
Also pay attention to dental care, by using either pet-specific toothpaste or dental treats to reduce plaque build-up.
The natural aging process makes body temperature regulation less consistent so, be sure to keep him dry, warm and preferably indoors during the colder months. If being indoors is problematic, give him adequate shelter and additional warmth – blankets and pet jerseys work well. Cats often seek warmth in weird and wonderful places, like underneath the bonnet of the car, so always check carefully before starting the engine and heading out.
Although winter days are shorter, help your best friend remain stimulated and in shape by maintaining a routine of regular (low impact) exercise. As he grows older he may also begin to lose his sight or hearing, which can be stressful and cause disorientation. To minimise this stress, remove clutter and put measures in place to prevent him from getting lost.
Above all, be aware of your aging pet – you know him best and if you notice anything out of the ordinary you should not ignore potential warning signs and rather get him to the vet for a check-up. Be especially aware of lumps; toileting or respiratory issues; changes in weight, energy, appetite or water intake; stiffness or limping and significant behaviour changes.
* Information provided by the non-profit Pet Food Industry Association of Southern Africa (PFI). For more information go to www.pfisa.co.za