It is never easy having a senior pet – it takes a lot of effort, patience and care. But in the end, the time spent looking after your fur-baby is worth every second. Although this blog is not a comprehensive guide, it does touch on the main issues geriatric pets struggle with and what you should be aware of as an owner. Here are 14 points for your consideration.
#1 Age-Related Issues Seen in Cats and Dogs
- Kidney disease – signs to look out for nausea/vomiting; drinking excessive water; strained urination or increased urination; loss of appetite; weight loss; poor hair coat; sore mouth.
- Arthritis – signs to look out for include problems climbing stairs; decreased activity or interest in play; stiff joints; an attitude or behaviour changes; being less alert; issues with sitting or standing; favouring a limb; increased sleep; weight gain; struggle to jump up on beds/couch/walls that previously weren’t an issue.
- Vision and hearing loss
- Gum diseases – signs to look out for include bad mouth odour, inflammation or sore spots in the mouth; loss of appetite; pet being sensitive/aggressive around their mouth; weight loss.
- Heart disease – signs to look out for include coughing; difficulty breathing; decreased tolerance for exercise; loss of appetite and vomiting.
- Liver disease
- Cancer – signs to look out for include abdominal swelling; bleeding from mouth, nose, or other openings; struggling with breathing; difficulty eating; lumps, bumps or change in your pet’s skin colour; wounds that don’t heal; chronic diarrhoea or vomiting; sudden weight change; unexplained swelling, heat, pain or lameness; visible mass or tumours.
- Reproductive diseases – non-neutered or non-spayed geriatric pets are at higher risk of mammary, testicular and prostate cancers.
#2 Signs You Need to Monitor
Behaviour change can be an indicator if there is something up with your beloved pet. The more you monitor your pet, the more likely you will pick up something early on. What should you look out for: increased irritability; decreased appetite; increased water consumption; strain in movement and changes in urination and bowel movements; incontinence; continual wandering and decreased interest in play.
More signs you should look out for are increased reaction and sensitivity to sound; increased vocalisation (barking, meowing, whining), signs of confusion/disorientation; decreased interaction with humans; non-responsiveness to commands; increased anxiety or aggressive/protective behaviour, obsessive-compulsive behaviour/repetitive activity and change in sleep cycles.
#3 Vet, Vet, Vet
Most Vets have a programme for senior pets. You must schedule regular visits to your Vet so that you can be sure your beloved fluffy is on the right food and routine to ensure a happy and pain-free or at least pain-managed life.
#4 It’s All About the Food
Older pets need the right nutrients and there are special foods for particular ailments. A Vet can assist you with what food is right for your geriatric floof. If your pet, for example, has kidney disease and arthritis it is crucial they are put on the right food. If your pet is less active due to their age, the amount of food you feed also needs to be evaluated. The best thing to do is to consult your Vet.
#5 Keep Your Pet on the Go
Animals like humans need regular exercise – even when they get older. Although you may not be able to take your dog for a run or gallivant about with your senior cat like you did when they were in their prime – it’s important for them and their joints that they keep moving. Take your dog for a stroll; walk with your cat around the garden – be patient with them and let them set the pace.
#6 Make Your Home Senior-Proof
Try to make it convenient for your senior pet to move around your home and adjust your home where possible to ensure your pet is comfortable. Adding things like a plastic or wooden step-up-stool to your pet’s favourite couch or your bed, getting an orthopaedic bed, keeping them warm in winter with extra blankies, heaters or jerseys and moving their food and water bowls closer to their living area are some of the ways you can improve their environment. You can even elevate the food and water bowls so that your senior doesn’t have to hunch down to eat.
#7 Be Patient
Any pet owner should love their pet enough to be patient with them when they get older. They may move or respond a little slower or act a little weirder, but you should love your old-timer for better or for worse.
#8 Keep Oral Health In-Check
Although you should always be checking your doggy’s or kitty’s dental health, this is especially true for older pets. Your local Vet can advise the full range of options to assist your pet’s oral health and even ensure a deep clean or check-up.
#9 Treat Parasites and Infectious Diseases
As with all pets, it is important that all internal and external parasites such as fleas, ticks, hookworms, roundworms etc, are treated regularly. Vaccination routines may change when pets get older, but it doesn’t mean that you can just skip vaccinations just for “sommer”. First, get a veterinary opinion before you ditch routines.
#10 Coat and Claw Care
Older dogs’ and cats’ coats and nails need special attention. Older cats, especially those with ailments, may stop grooming altogether. Nails of senior pets can become particularly hard, thick and overgrown and need to be trimmed back by a professional groomer or Vet; try not to do it yourself –nerves run through the nails and if you over-trim you could hurt them and make your pet go “lame” for some time. Senior pets also generally have more sensitive and easily irritated skin and fur that mats more. Give your pet a good brush regularly and ensure you keep them looking great. Once again, a professional groom or Vet can assist with a good groom or clip.
#11 Don’t Neglect TLC
The greatest need for senior pets is patience, followed by your consistent presence and physical touch. Your old doggy or kitty needs to hear your reassuring voice, gentle pats and presence. If you neglect them because they aren’t what they used to be, they will wane away physically and mentally. Don’t be that cruel to abandon your pet in their time of need.
#12 Understanding Your Pet’s Age
When is your pet a geriatric or considered senior? It may vary depending on species and breed. Larger dog breeds tend to have a shorter lifespan. But most pets are considered “senior” after age seven. Refer to the image below for a general guide to understanding your pet’s age.
#13 Pain Management
Do not give your pet, human painkillers. Even a small amount of Ibuprofen (for example) can be lethal for your pet and it is a horrible, painful death. That said, pain management can definitely be part of your senior pet’s life; especially, for joint diseases and arthritis. Visit a Vet who can put your pet on a pain management treatment (like Metacam).
#14 The Big E
A topic of discussion that most pet owners avoid at all costs is euthanasia. It is incredibly difficult to decide when you should essentially give consent to “kill” your baby or fur-child; animal haters just don’t get it. But at some point, you need to decide on the best interest of your beloved pet. A Vet can give you an honest indication of where your pet is at in his/her journey and whether your pet needs to be put to sleep as an act of mercy.
According to AVMA.org, there is a “Quality Life” scale to help pet owners and Vets assess whether their pet should be euthanised or whether they are still living a good, quality life. This scale is only useful if the person scoring or assessing the senior pet is honest (scoring is subjective). The scale expects the assessor to score the pet between one to ten in each category (ten being the highest quality of life and one is a poor quality of life).
Do you have any tips to share about your beloved old-timers? Please share on Social Media or in the comments below.