November is Senior Pet Appreciation Month! No matter what species of senior animal lives with you, he (or she) will require a bit of extra care to stay healthy and fit for as long as possible.
Most important is to have your animal friend checked by the veterinarian a couple times a year, or more if necessary. Animals suffer from the same types of ailments that we do – cancers, heart disease, kidney and liver issues, diabetes, and arthritis or joint issues, are only a few.
If the veterinarian knows what is normal for your pet, she will know when something is not right and will be able to catch any problems early and start treatment. There are many signs and symptoms that can be an indicator that your pet’s health is changing. Know what is normal for your pet and seek veterinary assistance if you notice any changes.
The veterinarian is going to be your pet’s friend during his senior years. She will be able to assist with ongoing needs such as pain management for arthritis and other conditions. Some senior pets need extra help keeping their teeth in good condition and may require a veterinarian to assist with cleaning or trimming teeth to allow your pet to eat normally.
It is important to keep your senior pet’s brain stimulated and active. Yes, old dogs (and cats, and rabbits, and birds, etc) really CAN learn new tricks! Clicker training is a great way to teach animals new behaviors and keep their brains and bodies active.
Enrichment activities can also help keep your pet’s brain active. Rotate his toys each week to offer something new and exciting. Use food puzzle toys to feed him a few meals each week to keep him active and stimulated. Animals are naturally curious, so introduce new things for him to check out.
Physical exercise is important to maintain your pet’s muscle and joint health. As he slows down physically, that exercise may need to become less intense and for shorter periods of time, but it is still just as important. Muscles and joints tend to deteriorate faster if they are not being used regularly. Regular exercise can help your pet stay in better shape to avoid injuries and can help prevent the problems associated with obesity.
Any significant weight gain or loss should be brought to the veterinarian’s attention, as it could be a symptom of something else going on in your pet’s body. Obesity can be an issue for senior pets who may be less active, yet are still eating the same amount of calories as they did when they were younger and more active. Obesity can increase the stress put on joints and organs. Check with your veterinarian to make sure your pet is eating the most nutritious food for his senior life stage, and is an appropriate weight.
Some pets may show signs of weakening cognitive function. Wandering aimlessly, sitting in one spot for long periods of time, not responding to stimuli as quickly as they once did, vocalizing more frequently – these can all be signs. But they may also be signs of a physical issue going on, so talk to the veterinarian about any changes in behavior that you see.
Many senior pets begin to show signs of sensory changes. They may not see or hear as well as they used to. Even their senses of smell and taste may weaken. Their responses may gradually slow, or they may act confused. Keeping your pet active with training, play, and enrichment will help keep his senses as sharp as possible for as long as possible.
Senior pets may need to eliminate more frequently now as their body systems start to weaken. Providing dogs with more frequent trips outside may help with this. Cats may need their litter boxes made more easily accessible. Putting easily laundered towels or bedding in favorite sleeping areas can make cleaning easier if your pet dribbles urine in his sleep. Plastic sheeting can be put under the towels to protect furniture and rugs so your pet can continue sleeping in his favorite places.
You may need to spend some extra time keeping your senior pet clean and well-groomed. Often, as pets, they are not as good at self-grooming tasks. Senior pets may also soil themselves and need to be kept clean and dry to prevent sores from forming.
Pets that normally spent lots of time outdoors may need a sweater now to help them maintain their body temperature. And they may need to spend more time indoors. Many senior pets are not as tolerant of the cold or heat. In the winter time, be careful to keep any walk ways used by your pet clear of snow and ice. Perhaps even use an outdoor carpet runner to provide more traction on slippery surfaces.
By giving your senior pet a little extra time and care, you can help keep him as healthy and happy as possible. And, don’t forget, that November is Senior Pet Appreciation Month! So – a little (or a LOT) of extra hugs and spoiling are in order as well! They deserve it!
Disclosure: TCI Advisors, Inc. is a corporate sponsor of the Animal House Project, a non-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization based in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania dedicated to helping keep pets out of shelters by donating pet food to families in crisis. Visit the website here. Through our corporate sponsorship we meet great folks, like Debbie, who share our passion for pets. See our Giving Back page for more info.