As veterinary care continues to advance, the result is that our pets are living longer. The average lifespan for dogs is around twelve years and I’ve known several cats to live into their twenties. Most dogs and cats are thought of as “senior” when they’re about seven years old. This is when you need to start watching for physical and behavioral changes and making allowances for them.
Older animals may not see or hear as well as their young counterparts. This means that when you go to pat them, they may not have noticed you come up to them and get a fright. You can avoid this by trying to approach them from the front and making noise as you do, so that they know that you are there.
Many pet food manufacturers have developed a range of senior’s foods to cater for the needs of our older pets. They usually contain fewer calories because older animals are often less active, and more fiber to keep the gastrointestinal tract healthy.
Look after your pet’s joints. Give them a soft bed to lie on, and try to avoid them needing to climb stairs or jump up. Sometimes elderly dogs find it hard to negotiate slippery tiled floors, so a throw rug or mat will make it easier for him to get around. There are a number of nutritional supplements that claim to be helpful for joints. If your dog is particularly sore, your vet can prescribe some anti-inflammatory medication, which should make him feel better. Never give human arthritis medication to your pet, and do not give dog medication to your cat.
Dental care is important. Sore teeth and gums will make eating painful so schedule twice-yearly dental check-ups on your calendar. Even animals that appear to be just fine will feel better when their teeth are cleaned. Many people have told me that their elderly pets were so much happier after their dental treatment.
You can teach an old dog (and cat) new tricks. Mental stimulation will keep life interesting. Teach your pet a new trick or two, taking into account their limitations. A dog with a stiff back will not be able to sit up and beg comfortably. Cats can be taught new behaviors, too. Another alternative is to offer them their meal in a way that they have to work for it. Treat toys such as Kong Wobblers are great for this.
Keep your vet’s number on speed dial on your phone. As pets get older, changes in their body can develop quickly. Early detection and diagnosis of something wrong means earlier treatment and usually a better outcome. A great example of this is diabetes in cats; it is possible for cats to go into diabetic remission and no longer need insulin injections if the disease is diagnosed early and treated aggressively. Think about a twice-yearly check-up with blood tests at the same time as your pet’s dental visit, and this will allow you to pick up any changes as soon as possible.
Your pet’s senior years can be a very happy and healthy time for them with just a few accommodations from you and the support of your vet. Don’t forget: you’re getting older, too!