As our pets age it is important to be mindful of their needs. We should aim to have a good understanding of their behavioural and physical needs as they get older and how these needs may change over time. Your pet may have lost hearing or sight, may be a little less active than he used to be, have arthritis or other issues which need a little help in managing. Below are some ideas of what you can do to help.
Senior? Middle-Aged? Old-Aged? What does it all mean:
As your pet gets older your vet may start refering to your pet as senior or geriatric. This usually refers to dogs or cats older than 7-9 years. Larger breed dogs age more rapidly than small breed dogs or cats, so a seven year old Great Dane would be substantially ‘older’ than a seven year old Toy Pom.
Sight and Hearing:
If your pet is in their senior years it’s important to pay attention to body language. If you’ve walked up to your pet, leant down to pat them and it seemed to get a fright or tense up, he / she may have not heard you approach. If you know that your pet’s hearing is affected, it sometimes helps to clap or stomp your feet on the ground so they can feel the vibrations in the floor and know you are approaching. If this is a sudden change, definitely seek veterinary advice as an ear infection or other issue can also affect hearing.
Slipping and Sliding:
Slipping and sliding on smooth surfaces becomes more common as our pets age. Their foot pads, which used to be rougher and grip flooring better, generally become smoother and more slippery with age. Arthritis can also mean that pets are stiffer and agility is decreased as a result of discomfort or fear of injury. If you notice your pet is slipping around, please speak to your vet so that she can evaluate comfort levels and help manage joint issues.
There are also a few easy modifiactions we can make around the home to help prevent injury:
- Placing Non-slip matts in places they spend most of their time
- Yoga matts in areas where they’re likely to slip or need a little help getting up from their beds
- Clipping the fur between the pads of the feet
- Paw-Friction – A new product out that adds grip to their paws (you can enquire with us for further information)
It is important to ensure your pet has comfortable bedding as a senior animal. If they haven’t had a bed in the past they deserve one now. Providing a comfy bed or an orthopaedic pet bed is great for pets with arthritis. Avoid beds that require pets to ‘step up or down’, hammock-like beds and beds that are too soft as these are all a bit unstable and make it difficult for pets to get in or out of bed.
When your pet was younger, jumping in the car, running around, climbing the stairs, chasing things and playing were easy daily exercises. With age comes decreased mobility and less activity generally. It’s important for muscle strength, joint function and mental stimulation to ensure that pets stay active. To prevent injury and assist our pets in maintaining mobility we can:
- Allow access to flat garden areas with lawn or court yards with non-slip flooring that makes it easy for them to get around and ‘sniff the flowers’.
- Put a baby gate at the top of stairs to stop them from stumbling up or down when unassisted. Provide non-slip ramps if the flight of stairs is short and they’re unlikely to wobble off. Or, if finances (or ingenuity) allow, pet stairway lifts are a great solution
- Provide pet stairs / ramps to get up onto the couch or human beds (if that’s a favourite spot that they’re allowed to sleep)
- Providing a ramp for them to get in and out of the car
- Getting comfortable pet beds that are on the floor instead of climbing into a bed.
Exercise and play
It is a common misconception that our older pets don’t want or need to play and join in with regular exercise, when in fact the opposite is true. Dogs and cats benefit greatly from walks and playtime: it provides them physical and mental stimulation! All you need to do is modify these activities to suit their aging bodies e.g. making walks shorter and slower. You are still providing them with a fun walk but just at their pace. Modify playtime activities so that they’re easier but still fun for your pet e.g. search for their meal instead of running around chasing a feather.
Harnesses and Leads:
Be aware that the harness or lead that your pet has worn since it was little may have been fine till now, but due to arthritis in necks and spines, wearing harnesses or collars may now cause him pain. Keep an eye on your pet during walks to see if the harness or collar seems to be causing discomfortable and if so, get him checked out.
Swimming is great physical therapy for dogs and cats. If you have access to a pool that is deep enough to swim in, we encourage you use it with your pets. Importantly, pets need to be taught to swim – there is a misconception that ‘pets just know how to swim’ – they don’t. Ensure that it’s a fun activity for your pet – you don’t want to be causing them distress or discomfort. Life jackets with support handles can be purchased for your pets to give them assistance when swimming.
Senior enrichment is very important in keeping senior pets’ minds active and reducing age related cognitive decline. When providing them with enrichment keep in mind their limitations i.e. whether they have arthritis, visual or hearing issues. Ensure you are creating fun enrichment activities that suit each individual pet.
- Playing ‘slow fetch’ by rolling the ball on the ground
- Modifying training with hand cues, verbal cues or tactical cues (taping on the shoulder)
- Don’t make abrupt big changes in the environment. If you’re going to make a big change e.g. redecorate the lounge, change one or two things at a time. A massive overhaul all at once can cause anxiety, distress and predispose to injury particularly for animals with visual impairment.
- Slow controlled walks on a lead
- Placing treats around the house for cats to find to increase exercise.
- Swimming – always with supervision and support
- Car rides or stroller rides for immobile or painful patients to get sensory stimulation.
- Card board boxes on the ground – hidden treats, hidey holes, low cost… all pluses
- Playing music
- Puzzle toys
- Socialising with your pet
If your pet used to have a daily “job” he/she would do for you (eg. carrying the newspaper), ensure that he / she can still perform this job comfortably. If your pet seems uncomfortable, change the “job” to something new or modify it so that it is lighter or softer. This allows them to still participate in your life and get all the ‘good boy / girl!’ praise that they so enjoy.
If your pet used to love socialising when they were younger, he will still love it now that he’s older. If you used to have play dates with a friend’s dog or go down to the dog park, it’s still good for them to socialise. Plans just need a little tweeking so that they’re not playing with excessively boisterous buddies or over doing it. If during this time they seem uncomfortable or anxious, gently move them from the situation, let them sit down, rest and offer some water before heading home. They may only need 10 minutes before they get tired but its great enrichment for them to be out and about.
When thinking about our pet’s diet at this age it is important to be feeding the correct food with the right nutrients to support them. There have been a lot of advances in helping pets cope with health issues, and diets have come a long way in supporting these special needs. There are now special diets for helping with specific issues e.g. joint disease and arthritis, diabetes, urinary tract issues, “doggy demetia” and weight control. If you are ever confused or unsure what to feed your pet, give us a call and we can discuss options.
It is not uncommon for our pets to get a bit ‘fussy’ in this stage of life. If you notice these changes, make sure you consult with your vet. Any change in appetite or eating behaviours in old age is one to make a note of to make sure nothing else is going on.
Place food and water bowls in an area within easy access and perhaps increase the number you have out and about, particularly if they battle to get around.
Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements:
As with human health, there are certain vitamins, minerals and supplements which can be very helpful for managing specific conditions, and then there are others which are a bit like ‘snake oil’… If you are considering adding something to your pet’s diet, give us a ring to discuss – we’ll be happy to give you advice based on research and scientific findings rather than ‘old wives tales’.
Although we don’t have as many options as the USA or UK, there are some supplements which are worth considering for pets:
- Chondroitin Supplements
- Glucosamine Supplements
- Omega 3 /Fish Oil Supplements
And even if the jar says they contain “xyz”, not all are created equally. Give us a call to discuss which are good quality and formulated to work.
It is important that senior pets have regular 6 monthly checks, more frequently if anything odd or abnormal is noticed:
- Lumps or masses
- Increased appetite or thirst
- Decreased appetite or thirst
- Sudden weight change
- Coughing or breathing troubles
- Increased pain – this may look like stiffness, ‘laziness’, chewing their feet / ankles, licking their joints, reluctance to get up / go for a walk
- Disorientation, Confusion
- Reluctance to do things they used to love doing
If you are unsure if your pet is in pain or if you’d like more help with what you can do to make your pet comfortable contact us on 0481 527 678 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org for an appointment. There are many more options available for your pet these days.