Q&A: How can I help my senior pet adapt to old age?

It’s inevitable.  Your pet will get old.  These days our pets are living even longer because we have learned how to take better care of them throughout their lives.

 

The downside of our pets living longer, however, is that most pet owners just aren’t aware of how to best care for their senior pets.  The good news is that with just a little bit of effort you can easily help your pets adapt to old age, and continue to provide them with a good quality of life.

Here are ten easy tips that you can easily implement to help your pet adapt to old age:

1.  Give them a runway.

Elderly pets often have mobility problems, and may not be very steady on their feet anymore.  Giving them a walkway with good traction over tile or wood floors will help increase their confidence while moving around the home.  Choose a material that is non-slip and easy to clean, such as a runner rug, bath mat, or yoga mats.

2. Move their food and water bowls to a better position.

For cats, put their dishes on the floor in a quiet area, rather than on a raised surface.  For dogs, consider elevating the dishes so they don’t have to reach so low to eat or drink.

Also, put multiple water dishes around the home so your pet doesn’t have to walk as far to get a drink of water.  Dehydration can be a major concern for senior pets.

3.  Make potty time easier for your pet to minimize accidents.

Senior cats may need a litter box that’s easier to get in and out of.  Get one with lower sides so they don’t have to jump to get in, and keep the level of litter lower as well so they don’t “sink” as much.

Senior dogs may have difficulty holding their urine for long periods of time and may need more frequent trips outside.  You could also consider an indoor “potty” area, using puppy pads or artificial turf in case of emergencies.  Don’t scold your dog if they have an accident indoors at this age; they will be just as upset about it as you are.

4.  Resist the urge to redecorate.

If your elderly pet has vision impairments, either partial or complete blindness, this one is important.  Your pet has likely memorized where everything is, so try to keep furniture, pet beds, and food/water dishes in the same places they’ve always been.

5.  Change their food.

Yes, I said change their food!  Senior pets have different nutritional needs than adult pets.  Seniors don’t need as many calories or as much fat as younger pets, but do need more fiber.  Most older pets will benefit if you switch them over to a “Senior” diet formula.  Senior pets who have diagnosed medical issues may benefit from specialized diets, which your veterinarian will recommend.

6.  Give them more spa days.

Elderly pets aren’t as good at grooming and keeping clean as they might have been when they were younger.  Brushing your pet’s fur will not only give you some important quality time with your pet (which they will love!), but will keep their coat and skin healthy.  Also pay attention to trimming the hair around the anal area to help with hygiene.  Some elderly pets will benefit from fatty acid supplements which help support healthy skin and fur.

7.  Stimulate their brain with fun activities.

Just because your pet is a senior doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy some fun!  It may look different now than it did when they were younger, but enrichment activities are very important to keep your senior pet young at heart.  Here are a few ideas for easy ways to stimulate your pet’s mind:

  1. Short, low-impact walks or swims during nice weather.
  2. Food puzzles, which are readily available at pet supply stores or can be made at home.
  3. Indoor games, such as hide-and-seek, rolling a ball, or find the treat (make it easy and encourage them when they get close to the treat)
  4. Hang a bird feeder outside your cat’s favorite window.
  5. Play a tamer version of catch the laser or string with your cat.

8.  Make their comfort a priority.

Most people immediately think of getting a comfy bed or blanket for their senior pet, which is great!  Also keep in mind that your senior pet can’t regulate their temperature as well anymore, so keep your pet warm, dry, and indoors when they’re not out getting exercise.  In the hot months, be sure to keep them from overheating.

9.  Don’t avoid your veterinarian.

Yes, I know, senior pets generally have more medical issues, and it is hard for some people to allot finances for an elderly pet.  But continuing to see your vet regularly (I recommend every 6 months at a minimum) will help you provide the best quality of life for your pet. Your vet will not only be checking up on their physical and mental health, but will also be able to provide you with  valuable advice and support as your pet grows older.

Please don’t automatically assume that a visit with the vet will mean spending thousands of dollars; discuss your financial concerns with your vet, and be honest about what you are willing and able to do for your pet.  I guarantee you that your veterinarian has your elderly pet’s quality of life and best interest at heart, more than anything else.

10.  All they really want is love.

Having an elderly pet can be tough.  Caring for their needs and seeing them get older before your eyes is a challenging part of your life together.  But remember this:  your aging pet only desires your continued love.  And they may not be able to come to you to get it.  So take some time every day to love on that senior pet.  It will mean the world to them.

 

 

Do you have other concerns about your elderly pet?  Dr. D specializes in in-home veterinary care, including geriatric pets.  Contact her by going HERE.