Loving an Aging Pet: How to Keep Pets Happy Through the Golden Years


Loving an Aging Pet: How to Keep Pets Happy Through the Golden Years

Dementia.Diabetes.Pet Health
Ilima Loomis
By Ilima Loomis
Jan 11, 2020
A woman holding her aging pet dog

That graying muzzle. Those soulful eyes. Many people find that their pets grow even more lovable as they get older. But caring for an older pet can present special challenges. Arthritis, hearing loss, and even dementia can affect aging animals. Here are some tips for keeping up with your pet’s changing needs, and helping them stay healthy and happy through their senior years.

Consider a Special Diet For Your Senior Pet

Older dogs and cats often have special nutritional needs, so it’s a good idea to talk with your vet about what diet is right for your pet. Many pets need fewer calories as they slow down and become less active, so you may need to switch to a weight-maintenance food or food especially for seniors. In other cases, it might make sense to put your pet on soft or higher-calorie food, if they have trouble chewing kibble or are losing weight. Pets with certain medical issues, like diabetes, kidney failure, liver disease, or heart disease, may need a special diet to help manage their condition.

Keep Up With Annual Vet Visits

It’s always a good idea to consult with your vet about your pet’s care, but it’s even more important during the senior years.

Plan on bringing in aging dogs and cats at least once a year for a check-up, so your vet can keep tabs on any chronic conditions and their overall health. Talk with your vet about any health or behavioral changes you may have noticed, and ask about any supplements or over-the-counter medications you may be considering giving your pet, to make sure it’s safe and won’t interfere with other treatments.

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Make Your Home Accessible for Your Pet’s Needs

  • Help pets climb onto the couch or the bed with pet stairs or a ramp.
  • Move food and water bowls off the counter and onto the floor for cats who can no longer jump up to high places.
  • Keep sleeping areas in a warm part of the house, and choose beds that are well-cushioned and flat on the floor.
  • Turn on night lights in the evening to help pets see.
  • Avoid moving furniture or making changes to your home that could confuse pets with bad eyesight.

Just like people, many pets slow down and lose mobility as they grow older. Think about how you can modify your home to make it easier to get around.

Try pet stairs or ramps to help your pet get up and down from the couch or into the car. Cats may no longer be able to leap up onto counters as they once did, so move food and water dishes to an easily accessible spot on the floor. Make sure beds and sleeping areas are located in a warm part of the house, and replace any elevated or lifted pet beds with flat, soft bedding that provides lots of cushioning for aging joints. Finally, animals can lose their vision as they age. Avoid moving furniture or making big changes to the layout of your home, and consider turning on night lights in the evening, to help pets see their way in the dark.

Help With Grooming To Check for Medical Issues

Older cats may have a harder time self-grooming than they did when they were younger, so you can help keep their coats healthy and avoid uncomfortable matting by gently grooming and brushing them. Give longhaired dogs some extra attention, as a shaggy coat can hide problems like cysts and tumors, as well as make it hard to tell if a dog is becoming too thin. If you don’t want to keep your pet clipped, take time to regularly check the skin and gently feel body for lumps and bumps. And don’t forget that grooming includes teeth care. Brushing your dog’s teeth, and asking your vet to give your pet a regular dental check-up, can prevent tooth decay so that your pet can continue eating comfortably.

Manage Your Pet’s Medications

Aging pets are prone to arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, glaucoma, anxiety, and other chronic health conditions that need to be managed with medication. But it’s important to manage medications correctly so that they are as effective as possible — and don’t end up harming your pet by mistake. Let your vet know about any other medications or supplements you may be giving your pet, to avoid any harmful interactions. Make sure you understand what the drug is supposed to do, and what signs of improvement you should be looking for.

Read labels carefully, and be sure to follow instructions for how you store prescriptions, and how, when, and how much medication you give your pet. Ask your vet for tips on how to get your pet to swallow a pill or sit still for eye drops, to minimize stress on both you and the animal.

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Watch for Signs of Dementia in Your Pet

  • Look for signs like confusion, walking in circles, losing interest in activities, aggression, and incontinence.
  • Consider supplements to support cognitive function, or a diet rich in nutrients like antioxidants and fatty acids.
  • Engage your pet in activities that provide mental stimulation, like playing outdoors, food puzzles, and learning new tricks.
  • Talk with your veterinarian about whether medication might help reduce symptoms of dementia.

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Some animals can become forgetful and disoriented as they reach old age, just like people, so it’s a good idea to watch pets for signs of dementia.

You might notice them walking in circles, looking confused, losing interest in family members, or staring at a wall. They may become more aggressive, or appear to be incontinent, as they “forget” house-training.

Certain medications that have been used to treat Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease in people have also been found to be helpful with dogs. Support your pet’s brain health with a diet that’s rich in antioxidants, fatty acids, and other nutrients. And making time to teach aging pets new tricks, let them explore outside, and giving them engaging toys like food puzzles can provide mental stimulation that can slow down deterioration.

Make Time for Play and Exercise

Playing with your aging pet isn’t just a good way to enjoy your time with them, it can also keep them healthy and extend their life. Getting regular, moderate exercise by walking around the block or playing in the backyard can help dogs keep muscle tone and maintain a healthy weight, while chasing or playing with stimulating toys can keep your pet’s brain engaged. Take it slow and keep exercise light, especially if your pet is overweight or out of shape, and consult your veterinarian if your pet has special health concerns that might affect their ability to move comfortably.

Pets may slow down as they get older, but the love and joy they bring to our lives doesn’t change. With a little extra attention and TLC, you can keep your pet healthy and help him enjoy his retirement years to the fullest.

Ilima Loomis

Ilima Loomis

Ilima Loomis is a freelance writer and journalist who specializes in writing about health care, HR, science, travel, and Hawaii. You can find more of her work at ilimaloomis.com. Ilima is a regular contributor to the RxSaver blog.

The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

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