November is National Senior Pet Month! What better time than now to celebrate the senior cats and dogs in our lives and take a moment to make sure we are providing them with the best care and loving support they need to continue growing old with us!
Some of us have had our beloved cats and/or dogs since their puppy and kitten days, while others have decided to open their homes and adopt a cat or dog as they are approaching their golden years. Whatever the case may be for you and your pets, we know as a cat or dog owner, you understand the importance of providing your cats and dogs the best possible homes and opportunities for a long, happy life! I know as I think about my cats aging and getting older, it is hard to think about them reaching the end of their golden years when they will eventually no longer be with us. However, my family and I also know how lucky and blessed we are to have these beautiful souls in our lives as they also leave lasting footprints in our own lives and hearts!
For those of you with dogs in your lives, you can likely consider yours to be a “senior” around age 9. However, larger dogs between 51-90 pounds may be considered seniors as early as age 7. On the other end, smaller dogs, such as those under 20 pounds, aren’t considered to be in their golden years until around the age of 9-13. Cats are a bit different and are not “senior” pets until between the ages of 12 and 15, however this can vary based on breed. Common signs of aging in your pets can include greying hair around the face, impaired hearing and eyesight, and sleeping more than usual. Understanding your cat’s and dog’s needs and health as they grow into their golden years is critical in providing the best care and ensuring a longer, healthier life.
Obviously preventative health care is going to help provide your beloved cat or dog with the best quality of life, however there are additional things you can do as your cat or dog approaches or graces through his or her senior years that can help provide the best quality of life and give you some of the best years yet with your beloved pet.
Tips for helping your cat or dog live their best senior years:
1. See your cat or dog’s veterinarian regularly. It may go without saying… taking your pet to the vet on a regular basis (at least every 6 months for senior pets) is one of the best things you can do to help prevent and/or catch health issues related to your cat or dog’s old age. Many veterinarians will recommend senior cats and dogs come in every 6 months, however, check with your own vet to see exactly what is recommended for your cat or dog’s particular needs. It’s typically easier and cheaper to prevent diseases in your pets than it is to treat them, so being proactive and staying on top of recommended vet visits is critical for soaking in as many years with your beloved cat and/or dog as possible!
2. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations. You know how our dentists tell us to brush and floss twice a day, yet as soon as we get home, I can imagine that “goes out the window” for many of us… am I right? Just as our doctors tell us how to best care for our own health, we need to follow and heed the advice of our vet’s recommendations for our cats and dogs! We can’t expect their health to improve if we fail to follow through, so if they suggest your cat or dog needs to lose weight, or needs a healthier diet, for example, then come up with an easy-to-follow plan. Ask your vet for specific recommendations, and make sure you understand and follow their suggested guidelines.
3. Don’t forget dental health. Speaking of dentists, dental health isn’t just for humans. Our pet’s teeth and gums need to be taken care of, just like our own. Dental issues such as serious plaque build up or gum diseases can lead to serious systemic issues and diseases for our pets, so keeping dental exams as part of your pet’s care routine is extremely important in helping prevent and/or treat any underlying diseases. Keep in mind it is not uncommon for pets as young as two or three to show signs of dental disease, so if you’re reading this and your cat or dog is still young, be sure you’re following through with recommended preventative care. There are many different products on the market such as dental treats and toys that can help keep your pet’s teeth clean, but you can check with your vet to see what’s best for your cat or dog’s special needs.
4. Flea and tick and other parasite prevention. Getting your dog or cat the recommended vaccinations at each stage of their life will help keep them from developing serious infections that can be brought upon by pests and parasites. Infections such as ringworm can even be devastating to a senior cat or dog, so heeding your vet’s recommendations for the vaccinations needed in their environment will help keep your cat or dog from being exposed to these sometimes-serious pests. Make sure this is a topic that is also discussed at your regular vet visits so you can stay up to date with any recommended vaccines your pet needs.
5. Diet, diet, diet. Sound familiar? Many of us have struggled with our own diets maybe more than we want to admit. But we need to also be advocates for our cat and dog’s own diets and ensure we’re providing them the proper nutrition needed for their age, breed, and health. Since we also know many pets get slower and have less energy as they age, we want to watch out for obesity in our cats and dogs, too, as a healthy weight will also help ensure their hearts stay healthy. Discuss specific supplements and caloric needs for your cat or dog with your vet and follow through with enforcing suggested diets to help your beloved pet live as long and healthy lives as possible.
6. Keep Moving!It should come as no surprise after diet that we want to bring up exercise. As we age, our bones get weaker and more brittle, and it’s typically no different for our pets. Keep your pets moving as much as they are able, while also following the suggested guidelines from your pet’s vet. The more active your pets stay, typically the healthier and more fit they will be. Additionally, while your pet may not jump or play fetch quite like they used to, keeping them engaged in physical play and movement will still help keep their joints in better health, so encourage that physical activity as much as possible. This will, in turn, help keep their weight down and their mental stimulation up.
7. Watch for signs of arthritis or other movement problems. Arthritis is unfortunately a common condition in many animals as they age, so if you notice your cat or dog taking a longer time or struggling to climb stairs or even standing or sitting for long periods of time, it could be a sign that they are experiencing pain. Stiff joints and decreased general activity can also signify a problem. If you notice such changes or behaviors, check with your pet’s veterinarian as he or she may be able to prescribe an anti-inflammatory or suggest other special modifications that can be made to help your cat or dog stay comfortable.
7. Change your cat or dog’s environment, as needed. While you encourage your pets to stay as physically active as possible, you may also need to make some special accommodations for them. Some cats or dogs may have a more difficult time climbing stairs, for example, so avoiding those and other difficult terrain will be important. It can also be helpful to get an orthopedic bed for their comfort while ensuring their water/food is easy for them to access. Keeping them warm with a jacket or sweater during the colder months will also help. Remember, senior cats and dogs may have a harder time seeing and hearing, too, so give them extra time to follow commands or get around throughout the house and on walks.
8. Watch for changes in your pet’s behavior. If needed, have a separate notepad or journal dedicated to this important documentation. Your notes and timeline of sudden changes can help your vet determine the triggers or underlying issues that may be going on, allowing him/her to best treat your cat or dog’s condition. Paying special attention to changes in appetite, energy levels, bodily functions, sleeping patterns and mental awareness can give your vet the critical info he/she may need to give your beloved cat or dog the best chance at finding solutions.
9. It’s not all physical. Cognitive dysfunction and memory problems are all too common in cats and dogs. Just as we experience loved ones going through Alzheimer’s or periods of confusion and anxiousness, our pets can also experience these difficult-to-process emotions. If you notice your cat or dog wandering aimlessly, having a newfound fear such as loud noises or people, or going through a sudden change in their activity level such as playing or sleeping much more or less than usual, these could be signs that he/she is experiencing anxiety and/or more serious cognitive issues or decline. Utilizing your journal and talking to your cat or dog’s veterinarian will be important in finding commonalities and coming up with treatment and solutions.
0. Focus on the love. While the golden years of your cat or dog’s life may prove to be some of the hardest for them physically, remember that the emotions, love, and loyalty they feel towards you and the rest of their family are priceless. Being able to provide your senior cat or dog with a loving home to live out his/her senior years can prove both rewarding and beautiful for not only them but for you and your family, as well. Soaking in the special moments of nuzzles, kisses and cuddles with your cat or dog will last a lifetime, and you can feel confident you helped make a positive difference in the life of your beloved pet.
If you’re reading this and you do not yet have a senior cat or dog in your home, you can take advantage of November being National Adopt a Senior Pet Month! Not only are there many benefits of adopting a senior pet, as featured in our past blog, but we can guarantee you there are also hundreds of senior dogs to choose from when deciding to add to your family, and you could be saving their life! If you’re looking to grow your family and add a senior pet to your home, please consider reaching out to your local Humane Society and shelters in your area. Additionally, if you adopt a pet age 4 or older, a popular pet food brand, Stella and Chewy, has offered to cover the cost of adoption fees for November. For more info regarding their adoption special, please check out their website stellaandchewys.com.
We have been so blessed as a local Milwaukee company to come into your homes and care for your pets. Pet sitting and dog walking are among our most popular requests and services, however, if you have an aging pet and are in need of dog walking or pet-sitting services to step in when you can’t physically be there, please let us know. Our team is trained in caring for pets of all ages and levels of health, and we look forward to making a positive difference in the lives of you and your family while helping your pet live a long and healthy life into their golden years and beyond.