Is your dog or cat getting a little gray around the muzzle? Are they slowing down in movement and struggling using the stairs? Is their fur looking a little straggly and unkempt? If so, your pet is showing signs of getting older.
Don't despair, with some help from you, your pet has plenty of good years left. I would like to offer some guidance on how you can help your aging pet live out the rest of their years in the best way.
Getting Older - The Age Factor
For dogs, life expectancy usually depends on their size. Giant breeds are considered a senior at 5 years old, while large to medium breeds typically hit their senior years at age 7 and smaller breeds at age 10. For cats, their aging status depends on their living environment, whether they are an indoor or outdoor cat (usually around 8 - 10 years old).
To understand the aging process better in our pets, take a look at a blog I wrote about pets and their age. ("Pets and Their Age, Not What You Think It Is?")
Is a Yearly Physical Still Required?
A yearly physical, or wellness checkup, is pretty typical for a young dog or cat, so don't skip that yearly physical. In fact, you might want to consider increasing it to twice a year.
Your aging friend may develop these health issues:
- Kidney and Liver Disease
- Dental Problems (tooth decay, gum disease)
- Irratible Bowels and Intestinal Issues
- Hearing and Sight Loss
Consider visiting the vet every 6 months. Your vet will do blood work once a year, and, with two checkups a year, this will give them an opportunity to exam your pet for any underlying medical issues that might be overlooked over the course of an entire year.
Should I Change My Pet's Diet
Yes, you will need to change your pets food and should consider adding supplements to their diet. Putting your pet on a "senior" type food helps their digestive system. Also, consider providing supplements like fish oil, Vitamin C, probiotics, MSM, and glucosamine. Talk to your vet about which supplement and dosage amount your pet can take. Supplements that a dog or cat can take vary as their body systems work differently.
Cats need a low-carb diet that is high in protein, and dogs need a lower fat diet. Soft or moist food might be needed for pets that have dental issues or gum disease.
Providing them with chemical-free water for drinking is beneficial as well.
Some larger breed dogs have difficultly bending over as they age to eat their food. Purchasing a raised bowl holder for them will make eating much more comfortable. Some pets will also need more feedings throughout the day. In such cases, feeding them two to three times a day may be required.
Making Accommodations for Our Aging Pets
A therapeutic bed, soft toys, and a ramp will be much appreciated by your aging fur friend. Aging pets have more difficultly keeping warm, so providing extra blankets, a heater (never left unattended), and your warm lap will help your pet stay cozy.
What use to be easy physically may be more difficult for your aging pet. Jumping up on the couch, climbing the stairs, and even walking across bare floors may be a challenge for your aging pet. Providing a ramp and putting rugs down will help your pet manage these with much more ease.
If your pet is losing their sight, removing obstacles and de-cluttering areas of the home will help your pet ease through this transition of their life. Also, be careful not to sneak up behind a pet that is losing their hearing - you wouldn't want to startle them.
As your pet becomes less mobile, or develops difficulties controlling their bladder, it may be time to provide them a safe, quiet room away from high traffic areas within the home. This will be more accommodating for the both of you. Just make sure your pet isn't feeling secluded away from everyone.
Overall, the best thing you can do for them, is to let them "retire" in the most comfortable and healthiest way that you can. Of course, providing LOTS of EXTRA LOVE will be returned with puppy kisses and kitten smiles during those "senior" years.
Saying Goodbye Is Never Easy
When the time comes to say goodbye to your fur baby, you will hopefully know that you provided their "senior" years with the best possible care.
Although saying goodbye will be one of the hardest things you will ever do, remember that the joy, love, and laughter your fur buddy has given you throughout their years will always be with you.