Our cats and dogs are part of the family. This sentiment goes for most pet owners. And, as such, their health and welfare needs should be taken care of seriously, just as we take care of our own. Therefore, when it comes to looking after them as they age, we should also take measures to make that process as comfortable as possible for them, just as we would for an ageing human family member (or ourselves).
There are many things we can do for our furry friends (or ‘fur babies’, to some) that will ensure their transition into old age is still a healthy, happy and stimulating life. And, combined with ours and their unconditional love, the ageing process can be a good (or less difficult) experience. Here are four tips to help you achieve this goal.
1. Keep Their Brains Healthy
Play is the name of the game when it comes to keeping your pets young at heart. They need stimulation just as we do to live fulfilling, active and fun lives. As they age, our pets too can suffer from mental and cognitive decline – affecting their memory, their alertness, their sleep patterns and so on – just like us. What we can do is create new daily challenges for them. Perhaps teaching them a new game (hide and seek, retrieving) or training behaviour, or challenge them to figure out a puzzle feeder in order to get their treats.
2. Keep Their Weight Under Control
Our pets need to watch their weight as they age and we’re the ones responsible for ensuring that happens. Too much fat tissue can be bad for our pets’ organs and can cause inflammation not only in their joints but throughout their bodies, leading to a poorer quality of life. You may be advised by your vet to switch to ‘senior’ pet foods which may be easier for an ageing cat or dog to digest and which may also help in keeping their nutrition on track if their appetite wanes. The following sites may be of interest when it comes to your senior pet food decisions:
Much as we want to spoil them with treats and special snacks, try to keep your ageing furball(s) on a healthy diet. You can help by following the serving size suggestions on their pet food packaging. Eliminating any excess weight they may be carrying is very important if you want to keep them healthier – so continuing to take your pet dogs despite the fact they may have arthritis, for walks as they age, will help them stay more mobile.
And, in the case of pet cats, taking them out for walks in a harness is much more common nowadays but if your cat isn’t into that, try playing more indoor games with them using a light beam, feathery toys on a string or tossing a small catnip filled ball or toy for them to pounce on and chase after. You too may get some much-needed exercise at the same time!
If, however, despite the added exercises and reducing their food portions to the recommended daily amounts doesn’t have an impact on your pet’s weight, you may want to visit your vet to find out if the animal has a thyroid condition, diabetes or other physical disorder.
3. Keep Them Tuned Up at the Vet
Your veterinarian should see your pet(s) at least once or twice a year for a check-up, especially if they’re over ten years old. This will ensure any health issues are detected sooner than later and steps can be taken to address them. A vet will also offer solutions for such conditions as pet incontinence, mobility issues, or even teach you how to ‘pill’ your dog or cat if they need to take medication, so they can still enjoy their senior years without trauma. Some pets may get embarrassed – just as we humans do – when they can’t do what they used to do.
4. Keep Them Comfy
An elderly cat may need a lower sided litter box located on every floor of your home to facilitate their needs, plus easy access to food and water when their mobility declines. You may wish to provide some pet stairs so that your cat can get up into their favourite perch or onto their preferred sun-filled window sill, especially if they have arthritis.
The same goes for a senior dog. If your ageing dog can no longer jump up onto the sofa or your bed for a nap if that’s what it used to do, then maybe set up some steps to make it easier for them to get up and down. Put out food/water stations closer to where they spend their time as they become less mobile as well.
Both older cats and dogs will appreciate a bed with thicker padding as they age and dogs will possibly need to have their toenails clipped more frequently so they don’t slip around on hardwood or tile flooring.
Pet Care is a Lifetime Commitment
Looking out for your family pet is a full-time job when they’re young and lively, but it’s also important if not more so, as they enter their senior years. Taking on a pet is a lifetime commitment. Our responsibility is to make every effort to ensure their senior years are as full and comfortable as possible and to keep our pets healthy and safe no matter their age.