Getting older is inevitable, and just like we do, animals go through several changes when they age. November is Senior Pet Month, which means it's the perfect time to appreciate our aging dogs and cats by discussing the best ways to care for them.
Keep reading to learn the top 10 tips for keeping your senior dog or cat in the best possible health so you can love them for longer.
1. Set up regular vet visits
As your pet gets older, it becomes even more important to take them to the vet regularly. Consistent visits to the vet's office ensure that any abnormalities or illnesses are caught before they become more serious. Establishing a baseline for your pet's health also increases the likelihood that you'll notice if something needs attention between vet appointments.
2. Focus on a healthy diet
Obesity in pets can make them predisposed to several diseases and can drastically lower their quality of life and life expectancy. As your best friend grows older, it's vital for them to have a healthy and balanced diet. It's especially crucial that senior dogs and cats maintain a healthy weight, which is usually achieved by feeding them slightly lower-calorie food and smaller portion sizes as they become less active and their metabolism slows down.
Sometimes our seniors go through stages where they are no longer interested in their usual meals - this is why I love feeding lines that incorporate rotational-feeding into their diet design. This does two things - it keeps your pet's pallet entertained, and it ensures they are receiving a complete and balanced diet. Visit your local pet shop if you have questions about a diet plan for your pet - there's an excellent chance they offer nutrition consults and guarantee the diets they carry.
3. Give supplements if needed
In addition to maintaining a balanced diet, supplements such as vitamin B, probiotics, and L-carnitine can be used to ensure that your pet gets the proper nutrients. Some supplements help support overall health and slow the negative effects of aging, and some can help alleviate the symptoms of specific problems like joint pain. Be sure to consult with your pet's veterinarian before starting your dog or cat on any new supplements! Your neighborhood pet shop is also a fantastic source for learning about new supplements for your pet.
4. Monitor for signs of discomfort or pain
Pets can't speak our language, so it's our job as their caretakers to closely monitor their behavior for any signs of pain or discomfort. Some common signs of pain may include limping, difficulties with finding a comfortable position, aversion to the stairs, aversion to being touched, decreased appetite, and excessive grooming/licking.
Additionally, it's important to watch your cat or dog's activity levels. Pets might be a bit less active as they age, but they shouldn't lose interest in playing and running around altogether.
5. Exercise their minds
Physical exercise isn't the only kind of workout that will keep your furry companion healthy. Just as elderly people benefit from working their brains with games like crossword puzzles and sudoku, your senior dog or cat needs to use their brain if they don't want to lose it.
You can help your pet keep their mind sharp by keeping up their training (old dogs can learn new tricks!), engaging them in fun activities such as scavenger hunts, giving them interactive puzzles and toys, and playing with them as often as possible.
6. Pay closer attention to grooming
As your pet gets older it may become more difficult for them to groom themselves. Regular brushing (and if needed, bathing) helps your pet stay fresh and clean and also provides the perfect opportunity for you to check them out for worrisome changes such as new lumps, bumps, or signs of irritation.
Check out your local pet shop to see if they have Self Serve Pet Wash Stations. If you haven't washed your pet at a pet wash station you haven't LIVED! Picture this, your pet walks up a couple of steps or up a ramp into a tub that is at your level so there's no bending over. You can safely secure them inside the tub so there's no wet-dog-wrestling to keep them from escaping. Oh, and the water is nice and warm and there's soap, towels, brushes, and more to help you get them squeaky clean. And the final kicker - the pet shop staff cleans up the mess! See what I mean. It's a win-win-win for everyone.
7. Take your dog on adventures
Senior dogs need to be able to explore new spaces and experience new smells and sounds. This keeps them active and engaged, as they get to use their senses and their brains to interact with the environment around them. Also, there's nothing as touching as seeing a spark of excitement in your dog's eye and a wag in their tail, no matter their age.
And yes, taking them to visit their favorite neighborhood pet shop counts as an awesome adventure. My dog knows exactly how to find his favorite pet shop in my neighborhood. Every Saturday we walk the 2-mile roundtrip so he can pick out his chews and food for the week. I let him lead the way - sometimes I'll even try to trip him up by taking a left at one corner instead of a right - but he always figures it out! It's the best of fun for both of us.
Keeping your cat from wandering alone outdoors doesn't mean you have to completely strip them of their privileges. If your cat is used to going outside, you can build a safe outdoor space or have scheduled and supervised outdoor time. Indoor enrichment such as new toys, towers, and treats will also keep your cat happy while they're safe inside.
I have a "cat-ery" enclosure attached to my bathroom window. We call it the Meow House. My cats can hop up onto the windowsill and escape for an afternoon nap outside on my balcony and I know they are completely safe. All I need to worry about are the occasional me-yowls when that window is closed.
9. Prioritize dental care
As pets get older they require more care in the dental department. Dental disease is one of the most prevalent issues in senior dogs and cats. Unfortunately, dental disease in pets can lead to more than just bad breath and excess tartar buildup. Untreated dental disease can cause problems with the heart, liver, kidneys, and more.
Brushing your dog or cat's teeth can help prevent tartar buildup and keep their mouth biome healthy for longer. Your neighborhood pet shop can help you find the tooth brushing tools you will need. Regular vet visits will also ensure that any dental problems are caught in a timely manner.
10. Make your home senior pet friendly
It's a good idea to optimize your home so that it fits the needs of your aging pet. This might include investing in an orthopedic pet bed, using pet stairs or ramps to help them get on and off furniture, and placing rugs on slippery floors made of wood or tile. The main goal here is to keep your pet safe, while still allowing them to enjoy life as usual.
Keeping a senior pet happy is all about paying attention. Your dog or cat's needs will likely change as they age, which means you should be open to accommodating them and adjusting your routines when needed. Every second with our pets is precious, so remember to spend as much time with them as possible and enjoy the golden years with your fur-covered best friend.