Growing Old with Your Pet: The Special Care Your Aging Pet Needs

Growing Old with Your Pet: The Special Care Your Aging Pet Needs

Is there anything as wonderful as the unconditional love of a furry friend? The sound of a purring cat or the look of happiness in the eyes of your dog can make your whole day better. Pets can bring incredible joy, companionship, and love. And hopefully they can be a faithful companion for many, many years.

Growing old with your pet is bittersweet; watching them slow down and face health problems can be heartbreaking, but most pet owners will tell you that the bond of love and friendship is worth the hardship.


And there are a lot of elderly pet owners out there!


According to the University of Michigan, 55% of all adults between the ages of 50 and 80 have at least one pet; many of them have multiple pets. The vast majority of these senior pet owners say that they get a sense of purpose and a break from stress by spending time with their cherished companion. And two-thirds of all pet owners and a whopping 78% of dog owners say that their pets keep them physically active.1


But as your pet ages, they might not be as active as they used to be. They will begin to suffer from the same ailments humans do as we age, including problems with balance, hearing loss, vision issues, arthritis, and even cognitive decline. They can even suffer from social isolation, fatigue, and graying hair.


Keeping Your Aging Pet Healthy and Happy


Your beloved pet provides you with so many good things, and looks to you to take care of them in return. But as they get older, they need more of a family caregiver than what you might be accustomed to providing.


Let’s look at some tips to help you make sure your pet is living their best life into their golden years. Keep in mind that this guide will focus on dogs and cats, as they are the most popular pets in the United States.


Get the Senior Checkup


When an animal is younger, the typical rule of thumb is to see the vet once a year, just like humans see their doctors for an annual checkup. But the American Animal Hospital Association recommends that when a pet becomes elderly, it’s time to see the vet twice a year.


What’s the definition of elderly? For cats, it’s generally 10 years of age and older. For dogs that line is a bit murky, but a good rule of thumb is that most breeds are considered elderly after eight years of age – though giant breeds, such as Great Danes or Saint Bernard’s, are considered elderly after the age of six or so.2


Make Your Home Safe


Making your home safe for your pet requires paying close attention to the little things that make it difficult for them to get around. As they get older, their physical abilities begin to decline, but their mental abilities might decline as well. They will likely start to have trouble with their vision and hearing. That means that some of the things that were once easy for them to navigate, such as jumping up and down from the couch, become difficult. Here are a few good options to get you started:


·        Create visual contrast on the floor. This can be tricky, because the easiest way to do this is with a runner or small carpet that has a vivid pattern to draw their attention to places that matter, such as their usual bedding spot or the area leading to their food bowl. But throw rugs and runners can greatly increase your own risk of falls. Painting an attractive and vivid pattern with non-skid paint is a good compromise.

·        Consider non-slip flooring. As your pet gets older, they can become unsteady on their feet. Suddenly, floors made of hardwood or tile can become dangerous. Consider switching out your flooring to something that is non-skid for both human and furry friends.

·        Restrict access. They used to have the run of the house, but now is a good time to make their world just a little smaller. For instance, an older dog should be watched very carefully when near the pool or stairs; using baby gates and other devices to keep them away from those areas could be a lifesaver.


Remember that a medical alert for elderly adults can give you so much peace of mind as you get older. While medical alert technology is ideal for seniors who worry about falls, it also serves as a way for you to reach out in the event of any sort of emergency.


Choose the Right Kind of Food


As pets get older, their bodies change, just as ours do. What was great for them at one point, such as their favorite kibble or wet food, might no longer be the case.


This could be thanks to dental health; problems with their teeth can make it harder to eat the dry food they once loved. It could be due to swallowing issues, which can make even the softest food a tough proposition. Or it could be something inside of them that doesn’t agree with the old food regimen, such as problems with their intestinal tract or heart that requires specialized foods.


Some of these specialized foods can be rather pricey. Fortunately, your veterinarian can help you with manufacturer’s coupons, sales and deals, and perhaps even free samples from time to time to make the financial burden easier.


It might also be a good idea to consider supplements for your pet. These could include fish oil for bones and joints, glucosamine for joints, or probiotics for digestive health. Talk with your veterinarian about what you might be able to add to your pet’s diet to make them feel better as they age.


Keep Them Moving


Just as human seniors need to move their bodies to improve and maintain their mobility, so do senior pets. As their bodies begin to ache and their joints start to wear down, they might begin to resist taking long walks or chasing a ball around. However, there is a difference between encouraging them to play and making them spend too much time with physical activity.


Give your aging pets short bursts of exercise, such as a ten-minute walk instead of an hour at the dog park. You can also try taking your elderly dog swimming or taking your older cat out on a leash in a very safe play area.


When you do take your pet out and about, it’s a good idea to have a button alert for seniors at your fingertips for safety and protection wherever you go.


Give Them Easy Access to the Necessities


As your pet gets older, their mobility might be compromised, and that means that they might have trouble getting to the places that matter for their good health – such as climbing into their usual sleeping spot or easily eating and drinking from their food and water bowls. Here are some tips that can help them:


·        Make sure food and water bowls have nonslip bottoms that prevent them from moving across the floor.

·        Consider food and water bowls that are elevated so your pet doesn’t have to bend down to eat or drink.

·        Litter boxes should have low sides or ramps to make it easier to get in and out.

·        Provide ramps or carpeted steps that allow them to easily get onto the furniture (if that’s what they love) or their favorite napping spot.


Pay Attention to Routines


Most pets thrive on routines. They love knowing what to expect, and their bodies often become attuned to the time of day to expect those things. When you stick to a schedule, it gives them the predictability they need to avoid feeling stressed out.


Remember, they might feel anxious already, simply thanks to the changes that are happening as they age. For instance, a dog might certainly be aware that he can’t run the way he used to, and a cat might understand that jumping to their favorite spot hurts their back. They might not process these changes cognitively in the way that we do, but animals are attuned to themselves and their environment – they definitely notice differences over time.


One of the best things you can do for them is to provide a safe, predictable, and regular routine. Knowing what to expect is always a good feeling, whether for a human or a furry companion!


Don’t Wait to Get Treatment


As your pet gets older, they might not bounce back from illness or injury as easily as they used to. Besides that, an older pet might have developed chronic conditions, just like many human seniors do.


But they obviously can’t tell you what hurts or what feels wrong. Sometimes a problem is crystal clear, such as your dog limping for no apparent reason or your cat suddenly looking up at you with red, watery eyes. Other times there’s not much to go on beyond the very subtle things, such as hesitation before jumping down from a surface or changing positions more often than usual.


Pay very close attention and at the first sign that something is “off,” be safe and take them to the veterinarian. Remember, your gut feeling that something might be wrong is usually right.


Keep Them Comfortable


Sometimes it’s very clear that your pet is uncomfortable. They will move around too much, struggling to find the right position as they try to sleep. They might pant or seem lethargic if the heat is too much for them, or they might shiver when the temperature drops. The Humane Society of the United States points out a few things to remember when it comes to keeping your pets comfortable:3


·        As they lose weight as a natural part of aging, their bones are closer to the skin. That means that bedding that is too compacted or worn could lead to pressure sores. Make sure the area where they sleep is soft and comfortable for them.

·        Make the bed easy to get in and out of. For instance, a dog that slept in a bed on the couch might need to have that bed moved to the floor to avoid making the jump every time they want to rest.

·        Place beds against a wall or furniture to help stabilize the bedding and make your pet feel safe.

·        Keep the home at a comfortable temperature. Watch your pet for signs that they might be hot or cold and address that accordingly. Some pets who are highly sensitive to cold as they age might benefit from comfortable knit sweaters.


Do other things that make them more comfortable, such as grooming them more often, giving them warm baths (if they tolerate it without stress), and offering up as much affection as you can. Just as you might reach for a medical alarm for your own peace of mind and safety, your pet will look to you for the same sort of care, assistance, and certainty that you will be there for them.


With the proper care and buckets of love, your senior pet can be your faithful companion for many years to come.