7 Practical Ways to Help Aging and Senior Pets
The often subtle changes in aging pets can creep up so gradually that many
of us don't consciously notice. Then, one day, we happen to look at our furry
friend and see a graying, grizzled muzzle... or realize that our active pet
is moving a little slower. Our pets undergo both physical and mental changes
as they get older. Here are a few things we can do to
help our pets age more gracefully and
enjoy their senior years.
When Is My Pet Considered a "Senior"?
It used to be common to calculate a dog's age as 7 'people years' = 1 dog year.
In other words, a 1 year-old dog would be considered the same as a 7 year-old person.
Now that we know more about pets, it's much more complex since there are many
factors that can affect a dog or cat's lifepsan.
- Cats over the age of 10 are considered 'senior';
- Cats 15 or older are considered 'geriatric';
- Dogs can be considered 'senior' at the age of 7 or 8, but this varies widely since
larger dogs tend to age faster.
Here's a chart that estimates a dog's age in human years. Remember that this is only
a generalization; genetics and other factors can affect a pet's true age.
||DOG'S HEALTHY ADULT WEIGHT
|20 lbs or less
||Over 90 lbs
1. Pain Management
As pets age, their bodies can change and conditions like arthritis can develop. Pain management
is important to a pet's quality of life. People don't like to live with pain; neither do pets!
Managing pain can be difficult to figure out at first - and may need adjustments over time - but
it's critical to your pet's feeling of well-being.
- Figure out what's causing the pain. Sometimes there is an underlying condition that
can be fixed... sometimes it's a chronic condition that will need to be managed.
- Try to consider the things that might be contributing to the pet's pain and attempt
to make it better. There are like illness or injury, of course, but regular day-to-day
living can cause pain as well. Could it be too little exercise - or too much?
Could soreness be caused by slipping on hard floors? Is their bed providing enough
- Talk to your vet about supplements that may help.
For example, in dogs with arthritis,
sometimes glucosamine, chondroitin, and/or MSM supplements
as well as omega-3 fatty acids
can help (here are other ways you can help
a pet with arthritis).
- Consider complementary therapies such as
acupuncture, physical therapy,
chiropractic, and massage therapy. These can make a dramatic difference for pets with
certain conditions. Ask your veterinarian for a referral.
- Many pet owners understandably prefer a 'natural', non-medicated solution to pain,
but this isn't always possible or appropriate. Sometimes pharmaceutical drugs are the
only things that effectively alleviate a pet's pain.
2. Easy Access to Necessities
Pain, stiffness, and limited mobility can make it harder for senior pets to get around.
Putting the basic necessities more easily within their reach can make a big difference to
- Place several water bowls throughout the house where your pet can easily reach them. To make
sure they don't run dry before you have a chance to refill them, use a
or even a drinking fountain.
A drinking fountain adds interest for pets who aren't drinking enough, and encourages them to drink more.
- Elevate the pet's food bowl
if he's having a hard time bending down (note: this isn't a good idea if your dog is prone to
a life-threatening condition called bloat - ask your vet).
- For cats, place their litter box somewhere that's easy for them to get to. Many older cats
are also arthritic and may have a difficult time getting to a litter box that's located down a
flight of stairs, for example. Litter box problems
- Give your pet a choice of several comfortable beds
in his favourite locations in the house. He probably
likes to spend time wherever his human family is, so be sure to place beds in the areas of the
home where you spend a lot of time.
3. Keep Them Active with Moderate Exercise
Exercise plays an important role in keeping pets at a healthy weight and mobile.
Although it's important not to overdo it, regular, moderate exercise is good for
senior pets and helps to keep their joints lubricated and their muscles strong.
Many pets gain weight as they get older, which leads them to be less active, which
leads them to gain weight ... it's a vicious circle.
- If your pet is normally pretty sedentary or if he has medical issues, clear it with
your veterinarian prior to starting an exercise program. Throwing a frisbee for a
prolonged play-time probably isn't a good idea with all the jumping and stress on the
joints... but walking is typically welcome exercise. Cats can be encouraged to
exercise with the use of interactive cat toys.
- You may need to adjust your pet's exercise routine every so often. If he's sore
afterwards, you're probably doing too much. If he's reluctant to walk, he might be
trying to tell you something - maybe it's too painful or he no longer has the stamina
to go as far as he used to.
- Splitting up a daily walk into two or three shorter walks can be easier on senior
dogs. It gives them gentle, regular exercise, keeps them mobile, and adds interest to
- Swimming is an excellent alternative to walking. It's great exercise and much easier
on the joints. Plus many dogs love water! Just be sure your pet doesn't overdo it.
can be used to make it easier for dogs to stay afloat. If you don't have
ready access to water, see if there is a canine physical therapy clinic in your area
that has an underwater treadmill.
- Remember that dogs often want to please their people, so they may try to keep up
with you even if they're tired. Be mindful of your pet's abilities and stop when they
show signs of tiring.
- Time your outdoor exercise sessions for comfortable temperatures and appropriate
weather conditions. Don't exercise your dog for long when it's hot or humid outside, or
too cold. Try to avoid walking senior dogs on icy or slippery surfaces where they may slip.
If you must cross a slippery area, a support harness or sling
can be helpful.
4. Smaller, Nutritious Meals, More Often
- Many older pets do better eating 2 or 3 small meals throughout the day, rather
than a single large meal.
- Choose fresh, nutritious foods and supplement where necessary. Most commercial
foods marketed for "senior pets" still require additional supplementation
(for example, glucosamine
and omega-3 fatty acids).
- Pets who are overweight will suffer extra stress on their joints, so keeping them at a
healthy weight - even on the lean side of healthy - will help.
- Pets who have medical issues may require a special diet. Do not change your pet's
diet without consultation from a veterinarian if your pet has medical issues.
5. Help Them Maintain a Healthy Weight
Monitor your pet's weight regularly. Pets often gain weight more easily as they get
older, often due to getting less exercise.
- You may need to decrease the amount you feed in order to help your pet maintain a
healthy weight. If he's overweight, feed fewer calories - keeping him lean will make it
easier for him to get around since there will be less stress on his joints. Try
lower-calorie dog treats
if you like to treat your dog.
- Fresh veggies can be used to 'bulk up' meals if your dog is still feeling hungry or doesn't
seem satisfied with the decreased meal portion.
- On the flip side, some older pets start to lose weight and can get very thin. It is just
as important to ensure that your pet doesn't get too thin, as it is to ensure he doesn't get
- Any changes in your pet's appetite or weight should be discussed with the veterinarian
to rule out any underlying medical conditions.
6. Keep Them Well-Groomed
Grooming does more than just make a pet look pretty. It also:
- Helps maintain the bond between the owner and the pet (good one-on-one time);
- Makes the pet feel good - many love to be brushed!
- Helps keep pets physically healthy - brushing out loose fur, for example, is a great way to help keep skin & coat healthy;
- Gives owners the opportunity to discover any health issues that need to be addressed. For instance, owners might
discover a lump that needs to be examined by the vet... or brushing a pet's teeth might reveal loose
teeth or an abscess.
Grooming includes brushing of the coat (and bathing, if necessary), as well as
cleaning eyes and ears, caring for your pet's dental health,
clipping nails, and checking paws for any soreness or foreign objects.
7. Compensate for Physical and Mental Changes
Pets may start to lose their vision, hearing, and mobility as they age. Some may develop
dementia as well. To help keep them safe you may need to make some changes around the home,
to help dogs with decreasing mobility navigate steps in or out of the home, or to get in or out of the car.
- Indoor steps or ramps
to help pets onto couches or beds.
- Mobility harnesses
to assist dogs to get up or walk (if your dog is unable to walk, here are some tips on
how to care for a paralyzed dog).
- Rugs or carpeted stair treads
for traction. Older pets often find it more difficult to manage slippery / hard floors.
- Baby gates
to prevent pets from stumbling or falling down stairs.
- Keep furniture in the same location to minimize accidental collisions for dogs who are losing their vision;
- Remove dangerous items from your pet's path.
- Dogs who have become blind may benefit from the use of an angel halo
to prevent them from hurting themselves if they run into something.
- Orthopedic beds
can work wonders in helping to alleviate sore joints.
- Line favourite sleeping areas with easily-washable towels or
home protection pads
if your pet is losing control of his or her bladder. Strip, wash, and replace whenever needed.
- Consider teaching your dog hand signals. They can be useful for communicating with dogs who are losing their hearing.
- More frequent bathroom breaks may be necessary. Some people teach their dogs to use
for times they can't be at home to let them out, or when dogs need to go overnight.
- Understand that cognitive changes are difficult for your pet, as well as for you, its humans.
Dementia may cause pets to vocalize excessively or develop anxiety, for instance. Sometimes small
changes can help - put on a radio or TV for company, leave a light on, place beds where your pet can
always see you, or try a calming scent like the
Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP)
or Feliway for cats.
is a tremendous help in calming some dogs.
Caring for an aging or senior pet may require more work and more time, but it's also a great privilege.
"Raising a dog is like a rainbow. Puppies are the joy at one end.
Old dogs are the treasure at the other."