Good news for pet owners! Our furry family members are living longer than in years past. But as your beloved dog or cat ages, his or her needs will change.
Not sure if your pet can be classified as an older adult? Here’s the rule of thumb: Generally, cats become senior citizens at 11 to 14 years of age, and dogs earn this distinction at age 7. However, it is important to note that smaller dogs are slower to age, and larger dogs tend to age more rapidly. Therefore a 7-year-old Chihuahua may be considered middle-aged whereas a Great Dane of the same age may be a full-fledged senior.
Has your pet achieved senior status? Here’s what you can do keep your him or her happy and healthy well into the Golden Years:
1. Visit the vet every six months
All pets require regular check-ups, but these become more frequent—and more important—with age. Taking your senior dog or cat to the vet every six months for exams and blood work allows the doc to establish baseline health. That way, it will be quickly apparent if illness sets in. Of course, notify the vet immediately if you notice a change in your pet’s energy level, appetite or behavior at any time.
2. Keep an eye on your aging pet’s diet
Many dogs and cats become less active with age, and therefore require fewer calories. Pay attention to your pet’s portions as excess body weight can stress the joints and contribute to a host of diseases in later life. If your senior dog has joint issues, he or she may benefit from special food and/or glucosamine or fish oil supplements. A special diet may also aid older pets with heart or kidney disease. Always consult your veterinarian to determine the best course of action for your four-legged friend.
Exercise is a must for senior pets, even if they don’t seem up to the task. Regular physical activity can help slow the progression of age-related conditions like arthritis. Grab your dog’s leash (and water, of course) and start with short 10-to-15-minute walks, slowly increasing the duration over time. Swimming is also a wonderful low-impact activity for canines with joint problems. Or, take out the laser pointer and get your cat moving. Regardless of the activity, be sure to keep an eye out for signs that your pet is overexerting him of herself.
4. Teach your pet new tricks
You’ve likely heard that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Not so! In fact, teaching your senior dog—or cat—new tricks is a wonderful way to turn back the hands of time. Consider enrolling your aging pet in basic training classes, or stock up on new and exciting toys—like the ones in which your dog must work to access a hidden treat. Interactive play will stimulate your pet’s brain and body.
5. Pay attention to dental hygiene
Tooth loss and pain associated with dental disease can make eating difficult for senior dogs and cats. To help prevent dental issues, brush your pet’s teeth regularly. If he or she simply will not tolerate toothbrushing, consider dishing out dental treats or investing in some dental toys. Also, be sure to schedule regular professional dental cleanings as recommended by your veterinarian.
6. Give your pet a safe space
As your dog or cat ages, he or she may experience mobility issues, visual impairment and/or hearing loss. If such problems occur, take steps to make your pet’s environment as safe and comfortable as possible. Consider installing ramps to help your pet get into bed, and clear your home of potential obstacles. Also, use pet gates to help ensure safety when you are unable to supervise your canine or feline companion.
7. Show affection through touch
All pets need love, and physical contact (e.g., a vigorous belly rub) is especially important for older cats and dogs. Aging pets with joint issues may benefit from therapeutic massage techniques, and those with a diminished ability to groom themselves will enjoy bonding over extra brushing. Showing your dog or cat affection through touch will increase your connection and demonstrate just how much you care.