What Should I being doing for my Senior Pet?

Our pets grow old before our eyes, with a life span much shorter than we would like.  So what should you do for an aging pet?  Help ease them into old age comfortably and as healthy as possible.  Here’s some ideas.

Watch for changes in behavior – is your dog suddenly stiff when getting up from a nap?  Did your old cat walk away form his favorite food this morning?  You know you pet better than anyone else.  A sudden change in behavior can indicate a medical problem. Help keep an aging pet healthy with twice yearly vet visits, and any time a sudden change occurs.  Many conditions that affect elderly pets may not be apparent to the naked eye: diabetes, heart problems, kidney failure. Early detection of a medical problem may allow for intervention that can ease and prolong life.

Lost sight and hearing – just like an elderly person, often there is a loss of sight and hearing.  In an otherwise healthy pet, this is a slow and gradual process, and you might not recognize the loss until it is advanced.  If your pet is startled easily, wakes up acting confused or can no longer catch a ball or hear you call, then some loss of these senses may be the cause.  Teach your dog some hand signals, which can work when deafness sets in, and conversely use a whistle, clicker, or other special sound your pet can recognize if eye sight fails.  Teach her to come to you when you use the signs/sounds.

Obesity – older pets may already have a harder time getting around due to stiff joints and lack of muscle tone.  Obesity makes moving around even harder.  It is estimated that obesity is just as much a people in pets as in people – it’s estimated at least half of the USA pet population is overweight or obese.  Cut back on treats, measure out food (rather than pouring out a dish full to self feed), feed at specified times in specified amounts, and change over to a senior diet  for pets over 7 years old (made with the right nutrients and calories for an older pet) or a weight loss food.

Make time for exercise – older pets need exercise to maintain muscle tone, and burn calories, especially if overweight.  Besides, the walk with do you good as well!  Play ball or invest in a dog frisbee (a soft one that won’t bother old teeth and gums), visit a pet park with your dog, play with your cat with cat fishing pole toy , crumpled ball of tin foil or paper, or even a cardboard box or paper bag(what cat can’t resist diving in to explore?).

Make a soft place to sleep – older pets who have sore or stiff joints, loss of muscle mass or body tone make be uncomfortable on a hard surface and also may get cold much easier.  A soft fluffy bed can help them sleep better.  Orthopedic beds made with “egg carton” foam or memory foam beds can help a dog sleep more comfortably.   Cats may prefer more of a “nest bed” to curl up in, or even something partially enclosed like a igloo bed.

Older pets have a hard time jumping up – so use a set of stairs or a ramp for your senior pet to get up on the bed or into a vehicle.  This not only saves your own back (with a large dog) but still maintains the pet’s sense of independence.

And lastly, though none of us like it, when the time comes, let your pet pass with dignity and without too much pain.  After spending 25 years in the veterinary industry, I can remember too many times when owners kept pets alive far longer than necessary for themselves, not because the pet had any quality of life left.  I’m guilty of it myself.

I always told pet owners – you’ll know when it’s time, because the pet will look at you and you’ll just know. Listen to them, just like you did all their life.

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