Life with an older pet can have its challenges. Knowing what to expect can help you prepare for and manage the various obstacles your senior pet might face, such as changing nutritional needs, exercise requirements, joint issues, sight & hearing loss, or behavioral changes. Here we provide an overview of some things to look out for as your dog or cat ages.
Growing older is a natural part of a pet’s life. As they age, they pass through life stages that require different types of care, and they have special needs unique to this phase in their life. How you care for your senior pet once he reaches old age can make a big difference in their quality of life and longevity. Older pets may require specialized diets, a modified exercise routine, or even extra supportive materials for aging joints.
At JovialPet, we understand the challenges pet owners with senior animals face in a very personal way. In fact, our company mission was inspired in-part by our company founder’s experience caring for an elderly stray named Loka. JovialPet’s founder, Joel Brown, rescued Loka from the street in front of his workshop.
When Loka was found she was in such poor condition that Joel couldn’t even determine her breed, or whether she was male or female. She was limping, filth, and scared to death. The vets told Joel that Loka was very old, had many missing teeth and a heart condition, along with arthritis and cataracts. Knowing that Loka would have trouble getting adopted out, Joel decided to keep her as his own.
Over the next two years, Joel found himself discovering many unique ways to manage Loka’s many health challenges and obstacles, an experience out of which the JoviBowl was born. The JoviBowl’s adjustable tilt and lift allowed Loka to access her food at an optimal and comfortable feeding level, so she no longer tripped or stepped in her food.
To help you navigate care for your own senior pet, the Jovial Pet team has put together this overview of some of the things to be on the lookout for as your dog or cat grows in age.
Senior Diet & Nutrition Requirements
Senior diet and nutrition is especially important as your pet ages. As pets get older, their metabolism and nutritional requirements change.
Poor quality pet foods are often packed with fillers that contain inessential ingredients, carbohydrates, and starches that increase your pet’s chances of weight gain. Obesity is a major risk factor for the development of conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
Because your pet’s metabolism changes as they age, they’ll often require a shift in their diet to reflect their evolving needs. For dogs, this may mean lower calories, lower sodium, and higher protein. For cats, it might mean lower protein, and increased water.
Many quality pet food companies offer senior-specific diets. When your pet reaches senior status, it’s always a good idea to visit the vet for a metabolic evaluation and dietary recommendations.
Moderated Daily Exercise Plan
Exercise is an important part of senior pet care. As pets age their mobility declines, which can contribute to weight gain. They also tend to develop arthritis, which causes stiffened joints, pain, and inflammation.
Daily, low-impact exercise can help prevent or prolong some of the diseases and discomfort associated with these conditions. While your dog may no longer be able to join you on a strenuous hike or fast-paced run, they may enjoy a relaxed walk around the neighborhood. A cat might enjoy a modified tower, toys, or other light but stimulating indoor play.
Always observe your senior pet when they are active to look for signs of stress, like panting or wincing, which could be a sign that you need to scale back on activity.
Arthritis and Joint Support
Sadly, joint problems are very common in senior pets. In time, most pets will go on to develop joint problems. If your little one lives long enough, he or she will probably experience some degree of arthritis. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t great ways to help!
Nutritional support and weight control are two big factors that impact joint care for a senior pet. Making sure your pet is fed an adequate senior diet that reflects their evolving needs is imperative, as is daily low-impact exercise. A heavier weight stresses your dog’s joints, increasing the chance of joint-related injury.
Additionally, consider upgrading your pet’s environment. To help alleviate stress on aging joints, consider making the following purchases:
- An ‘orthopedic’ dog bed made from joint cushioning memory foam or other supportive, comforting materials.
- A step ladder for your vehicle, couch, and bed.
An elevated bowl to reduce strain in the neck and joints. The JoviBowl feeding system offers elevated feeding with customizable height and tilt features to maximize comfort and ease feeding stresses. Elevated feeding supports dogs and cats that experience aches and pains in their joints.
Hearing and Vision Loss
It’s common for senior dogs and cats to suffer from impaired hearing and vision. If you notice your furry friend bumping into items, diminished responsiveness, or disorientation, it’s time for a vet visit to check for hearing or vision loss.
Hearing and vision loss in elderly pets is a gradual degenerative process that occurs slowly over time, and typically isn’t curable. Fortunately, for most pets, deafness or blindness isn’t nearly as detrimental to their everyday lives as one might assume. With a little patience and attentiveness, you should be able to find ways to help your pet cope.
Here are a few suggestions to help you deal with a dog or cat suffering from hearing or vision loss:
- Maintain a regular daily routine.
- Maintain a neat, organized home. Don’t rearrange furniture.
- Remove or protect against sharp objects and corners.
- Supervise your dogs outdoors, and keep cats inside.
- Avoid burning candles, and block access to fireplaces.
- Use nightlights indoors and out.
- An elevated bowl will help them locate their food and water. JoviBowl eases mealtime for aging pets.
Behavioral & Cognitive Changes
As an older pet ages, it is not uncommon for behavioral changes to occur. Just like humans, most aging pets will experience some degree of cognitive decline that manifests in a variety of ways. This might include increased separation anxiety, phobias, house-soiling, restlessness, aggression, or appetite changes.
Usually these behavioral changes occur over time, and do not appear overnight. For example, you might notice that your once bubbly and affectionate pet has become more detached or disinterested in playful activities, or alternatively, your once independent pet might become more needy or clingy.
While these behavioral changes might seem concerning, they are a normal part of a pet’s life. It may require some patience and compassion on your behalf to learn about the myriad changes that might occur, but learning them will help you become a more empathetic and caring pet owner, and overall improve your pet’s quality of life.
If your senior pet is experiencing any behavioral changes, schedule a vet visit or consultation with an animal behavioral specialist that can provide you with more information about how to help your pet cope.
Veterinary Care & Vaccination Requirements
Caring for your senior pet is probably going to involve more frequent visits to the veterinarian. At a minimum, geriatric pets should receive semi-annual veterinary visits, allowing a better opportunity to notice signs or symptoms of failing health. Your veterinarian needs to know what is going on so he can treat any harmful conditions early before these problems become worse!
The Importance of Compassion
You remember those early days when your little fur-baby wasn’t quite able to walk straight, his coordination not quite all there, or the frequent accidents around the house before your training took hold. Nothing you did seemed to make sense to the pup or kitten, but you were compassionate and caring no matter what! Your senior pet will need the same compassion and patient understanding you showed them at a young age.
Though dealing with a senior pet has its challenges, it’s important to maintain patience and perspective. Remember, you are your pet’s world. Embrace this stage in your dog or cat’s life and enjoy every day you have together. Your senior pet is relying on your empathy and understanding to make this final stage of life as fulfilling as it can be!
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