The much-publicised boom in pet ownership over the past few years has proven fruitful for not only the companionship they bring these new owners, but also for the pet industry as a whole.

While many who have acquired a puppy or kitten for the first time will no doubt have heard about the products and services available to them, they may not know what is available or how to properly care for their pet as they age.

Dr Andrew McKay, Head Veterinarian at ZamiPet, said that he thinks the industry is just catching on that there is an ageing pet population and that their care differs a little from the younger pets.

“The dog population Is ageing just like the human population, so there has been an increasing amount of care and products for senior pets come to market in recent years.”

It is important to understand when a pet is considered to have entered its senior years, Dr McKay explains that a dog is considered ‘senior’ when it has reached the last quarter of its life expectancy.

“As a general rule, large dogs tend to age more quickly than smaller dogs. So, whilst a large dog like a Great Dane might be considered ‘senior’ after just five or six human years, smaller dogs like Boston Terriers, it’s more like nine or ten years. And mid-sized dogs around eight human years.”

Just as we require extra care in our advancing years, Dr McKay says senior pets also need special attention to support optimal health throughout the ageing process.

“A significant percentage of our dog population is ageing. Many dogs are living longer due to the improvement of veterinary preventative health programs. There is also greater awareness that management of age-related decline in dogs should include a range of methods and treatments, including pet healthcare products.”

For Sarah Campbell, from the Pet Professional Guild Australia (PPGA) and President and Owner of Happy Tails Training Tasmania, she has seen the number of supplements, age specific food, arthritis medications, and alternative therapies on offer increase substantially over the past 20 years.

“Even items designed to assist our dogs when they get older, such as ramps, stairs, orthopaedic beds, heating pads, and mobility aids such as wheelchairs and lift harnesses.”

Campbell says her own Border Collie, Jack, who is 12 has regular appointments with a therapist and exercise rehabilitation specialist to keep him flexible and fit.

“My previous Red Heeler X, Maxi, was also getting acupuncture and laser along with hydrotherapy to help with her arthritis and definitely made a huge impact on her wellbeing and happiness as well.”

Old dogs, new tricks

As pets age they face many of the same problems as humans do, they might not be as enthusiastic to chase a ball at the park as their joints are sore, or they could experience changes in body function such as appetite or bowel movement.

Fortunately, there are many services and products available to assist pets as they get older, and given the time spent between owner and pet their animal-human bond has undoubtedly deepened and owners are willing to spend more on their pet to increase their health and wellness. 

Dr Sasha Nefedova BVSc, General Manager at PETstock Vet, said there are many new products available to make senior pets healthy and comfortable.

“Pets are just like people and can get arthritis as they get older. Nutraceuticals and supplements can do wonders for sore joints as well as new vet medications to help with pain and discomfort.

“Lots of pet owners also love to spoil their pets with comfortable clothing and beds which helps keep senior pets in comfort over winter.”

Dogs are very good at hiding their pain, so it’s important to pay extra attention to any changes in their behaviour. One product that can help provide an easy measurement of a dog’s temperature is the Mella Home Smart Thermometer.

The thermometer allows owners to measure their pet’s body temperature easily and accurately with a quick, non-invasive placement under the hindleg or foreleg of the animal.

Dr Nefedova said that having the thermometer at home to use is a great tool to help understand if anything is wrong.

“Senior pets will start to slow down and may just be having a quiet day but if you’re concerned you have a way to check temperature at home and see if they have a fever which may be an indication of illness or infection. When you call your vet with a question you can also tell them the temperature over the phone which may help them decide if you need an urgent vet visit.”

ZamiPet offers a range of products that help assist dogs get older, such as ZamiPet Senior Support which is the only senior dog supplement in Australia containing Phosphatidylserine, which may help slow down the progression of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) and reduce symptoms of age-related decline.

“ZamiPet Senior Support is formulated for the needs of older dogs and contains Omega-3, Phosphatidylserine, Turmeric, CoQ10 and L-Carnitine to support immune, eye, heart and brain health and may help alleviate symptoms associated with age-related decline such as greying fur, slowing down or sleeping,” explained Dr McKay.

For Campbell, she believes there is always room for more services, especially in regional areas, including a need for more specialist veterinarians.

“We definitely need more veterinarians that specialise in different areas such as orthopaedics, optometry, rehabilitation, and even behaviour to help our pets through their lifetime. The feline industry is an area that would particularly benefit from more people undertaking training into feline behaviour, especially in regard to older cats.”

Pet-sitting is another sector that Campbell believes could diversify to better include senior pets, and explains that as pets age, their owners often don’t want to leave them when travelling and especially not in a boarding kennel situation if they are starting to decline in mobility and confidence.

“Finding a pet sitter that you can be comfortable with that understands your pet’s needs (including medication, enrichment, activity needs) can be a very complex and scary task. So more older pet appropriate boarding kennels with increased one on one care would be an option to consider, which I’m sure most owners would be willing to pay for.”

Identifying issues

There are opportunities abound for brands to take advantage of the ageing pet population, but first they must understand the issues facing senior pets.

Obviously the most important thing for pet parents to do when caring for their senior pet is to increase the frequency of their vet visits, but Campbell says it also important to keep them mentally and physically active.

“We tend to assume that as they become a senior that they just want to sleep and rest. However, we need to keep them moving and their brains active. I still regularly do training sessions with Jack a couple times a week, take slow sniffy walks with him at the local parks and also our regular walks to maintain his muscle tone and strength as well as keeping him mentally happy.”

Keeping them physically active can also help with what Dr Nefedova believes is one of the biggest issues currently facing senior pets – obesity.

“Unfortunately, many senior pets currently suffer from obesity. Obesity can lead to many health problems similar to humans and if your senior pet already has arthritis, being overweight will aggravate their pain and discomfort. Talk with your vet or vet nurse team about your pet’s weight and if they need to reduce weight always do this under vet direction in senior animals.”

As pets grow older their dietary requirements or feeding habits often change, so Dr McKay says it is important to revisit your pet’s diet.

“Older dogs are more sedentary and can become obese if eating the same as their younger, more active selves. Try smaller meals, more often (rather than larger, less frequent ones) as they’re easier to digest and deliver energy across the course of the day.

“Also consider a diet lower in fat and carbohydrates to help keep those extra kilos off. Specialised diets for animals with kidney disease are available which help slow the disease progression.”

At the end of the day, owners simply want to spend as much time as possible with their healthy and happy pet and the more products and services that enable them to do so the better.

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