Best Practices When Caring for Your Senior Pet
November is a month of gratitude and family, and Pet Waggin’ sure is grateful this year! For starters, we’re thankful for the opportunity to care for the pets of Long Beach, big or small, young or old. November also happens to be National Senior Pet Month, a great time to learn how to care for the older animals in your life. The first thing pet parents should know when caring for a senior pet is that “senior” isn’t the same for all animals. For instance, cats are usually considered to be a senior when they’ve reached the ages of 10-12. For smaller dogs, ‘senior’ may mean 11 years (although many veterinarians consider a dog of about 7-8 to be the beginning of their senior days). And, extra-large pups can be considered senior when they’re as ‘young’ as 5-6! Not to mention, your pet may begin to display signs of senior behavior/health earlier or later than other pets.
Either way, once your pet has reached his or her golden years, the experience of pet care changes. Pet Waggin’ has cared for ‘em all, and we want to share our expertise in keeping older animals as healthy as possible to prepare for any aging issues that may come their way.
Here are some best practices for caring for your senior pet:
Keep Exercising Your Senior Pet
Maybe your pet ain’t as spry as he used to be. He needs extra help getting on or off the couch or maybe it’s been a while since your kitty has gotten a case of the “zoomies.” That doesn’t mean physical exercise is off the table—it just means exercise needs to be adapted to accommodate your senior pets’ needs:
Daily Walks: Be mindful of the temperature, as senior dogs are more sensitive to the cold than younger ones. If it’s hot outside, be sure to bring water and take frequent breaks. If it’s cold, a dog jacket or sweater will help keep his ole bones comfortable! Also, don’t worry if you don’t walk 2 miles like you used to - the goal is to get outdoors, smell the flowers, and move those muscles.
Go Fetch and Other Games: When throwing your pup’s favorite ball, keep the trajectory low so that your aging pup won’t have to leap high. No more ruff tugging with your pooch when playing tug-of-war, especially if your senior dog has dental issues. Still, tug-of-war is a great exercise for his jaws and neck—just remember that gentle is the way to go.
Swimming: Swimming has been proven to be an optimal choice for exercise and physical therapy for senior humans, and same goes for dogs. Let your senior pet show off his doggie paddlin’ skills and take a swim (if the weather permits). Just make sure to help him or her in and out of the water, and be careful not to over-tire your pet. Keep your swim sessions brief.
Keep Up Your Senior Pet’s Mental Exercise
Now more than ever, mental stimulation is just as important as physical stimulation. Your favorite furry companion is more prone to boredom because their muscles and bones just ain’t up to snuff! Here are some mind game ideas to play with your pet:
Training: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Think again! Training your aging pet is even more fun now because it isn’t about altering or disciplining their behavior, it’s about keeping them mentally alert and engaged. So, feel free to have fun with it and get creative!
Problem Solving: Your aging pet still loves to play and figure things out. Try using a puzzle feeder so your senior pet can figure out how to get the kibble and treats they adore. You don’t even need to go out and buy an expensive puzzle feeder—try an empty water bottle! Another game Pet Waggin’ loves is hide-and-seek. Ask your dog to stay, and then go hide and call them over!
Patience: Both physical exercise and mental stimulation in senior pets require your patience. If a walk around the block takes an hour, so be it or heck, even if you don’t make it around that block - that’s okay, too). Let your senior pup stop and smell the roses. Frequent breaks during any activity is beneficial to your pet. Taking breaks during activities not only keeps your dog’s body mobile, but also his mind.
Improve Your Senior Pet’s Diet
Senior pets can’t process the fattening foods of his or her younger years, and an unhealthy diet can lead to unwanted conditions, such as pancreatitis. Now that your pet can’t exercise like they did “back then,” it’s especially important to feed him or her healthier foods:
Protein: Protein is super important for older animals as they tend to lose muscle mass. Think of it this way: muscle reserves protein. A loss in one is a loss for the other, so make sure your dog food has plenty of protein and stick to kibble that contains derivatives from real meat.
Sodium: Sodium may not be as harmful to older pets as it may be for older humans, and most dogs prefer saltier snacks. However, dogs with hypertension, kidney, or heart problems should consider sticking to low-sodium foods. Don’t get rid of sodium entirely, but do be sure to ask your veterinarian how to manage your pet’s diet as he ages. They’ll have plenty of wonderful suggestions for your specific pet!
Veggies: Young or old, dogs can always benefit from veggies in small quantities. For senior dogs in particular, veggies are the ideal occasional treat. If your older pup is constipated, he’ll love the added fiber! Try steamed fresh or canned green beans, or even carrots. (Pro-tip: these bite-sized veggies are good for exercise, too! Toss a few low to the ground and let your senior pup sniff them out!)
Visit Your Vet for a Senior Pet Panel
Older pets are more at risk of developing health conditions ranging from mild to severe. For senior pets, these health conditions usually involve metabolic and organ functions, and catching these conditions early on can make a huge difference in your pet’s quality of life. Getting a senior panel done at the vet will give you the chance to receive an early diagnosis so that you can treat and reduce pain. If nothing else, a senior pet panel can also help ease the mind! Letting your vet run blood or fecal tests will also make you aware of the changes happening in your pet’s body so that you can make adjustments to their diet or medications accordingly.
Take Action at Home
Caring for a senior pet, especially when they have fallen ill, can make a pet parent feel helpless. On the contrary, senior pet parents should feel empowered. There are steps you can take at home that will help reduce your aging pet’s discomfort and increase your pet’s happiness.
Because senior pets have trouble regulating their body temperature, you’ll want to keep them warm indoors as well as outdoors. Make sure his or her bedding is equipped with extra blankets, or consider investing in an orthopedic bed. If your pet’s vision is fading, a tidy home will not only help prevent accidents, but ease his or her anxiety. For arthritic dogs, investing in ramps or extra steps can be so beneficial. Imagine how much happier your pet will be, being able to join their beloved human in bed to rest their tired bones!
Keep Your Pet Sitters in the Know
As pet sitters, Pet Waggin’ needs as much information as possible in caring for your pet. Is your senior pet on medication? What is the proper dose and what does it treat? What are the symptoms we should look for, especially if your pet’s condition is episodic? Your pet sitter wants to be just as informed as you are in providing your pet with the care he or she needs. That way, our care is consistent with yours and your pet can remain happy, healthy, and feelin’ good!
Embracing change can be an emotionally difficult process. If your pet loses vision, develops cataracts, or experiences hearing loss, it’s important to understand that they adapt better than humans can. As long as senior pets have parents like YOU who can anticipate their needs, their golden years will be filled with just as much joy and love as their younger years. And remember, Pet Waggin’ is always here for you! You can schedule a free First Impressions Visit and a valued team member can come and get to know you and your fur-family, whether he’s just a pup or a wise senior.