If you are a pet owner, particularly an owner that has had a loyal companion by your side for a number of years, you want them to be at ease and enjoy every moment of their life, whether they’re a new puppy or as old as your grandparents. Even though your best animal bud may not be as nimble as he or she used to be, you can take measures to understand your pet’s needs and keep Fido and Kitty at their healthiest.
Like my sweetheart, Mindy, many dogs and cats have just as much of a positive energy about themselves in old age as they always have, although they are a bit fragile. Mindy runs around the dog park about as fast as when she was 3, even though she’s now 13, but she has trouble getting up and down stairs.
In case you’re wondering a little bit about caring for an aging pet, here are some tips. (Though the biggest tip is, as it always has been, to be patient and give Fido and Kitty plenty of love.)
Arthritis affects different dogs in different ways, and varies widely from breed to breed. It’s generally worse in large-breed dogs, but can affect any dog, even when they’re not old. You may want to build a movable ramp down your front stairs if your home is elevated to ensure that your pet can get outside with relative ease. You may also choose to invest in a dog harness, usually a wide strip of padded nylon that goes under your dog’s belly with handles on both sides, so you can help them lift their back legs and get around.
- Selecting the Right Foods
As when anybody gets old, it can be hard to balance calories spent and calories eaten, especially for pets with bad arthritis. It’s very important to talk with your vet and choose the right kind of food that will nourish your dog while helping to control their weight. There is constant debate over which form of food is best – dry or wet. They both come with their own benefits as well as disadvantages. Do your research and decide which food best suits your dog.
As dogs age, they can also have problems with digestive regularity. Make sure you’re paying attention to what your dog needs, or might need. If they wake you up in the middle of the night, it’s always safer to give them the opportunity to go outside than to give them a bit more food.
Cats, too, can get arthritic and have trouble moving. One big side effect in cats is that arthritic cats sleep more than they would otherwise. They also slow down and stop jumping to their favorite hide-outs, as their joints are achy. A cat may even dislike being rubbed if stroking them aggravates joint pain, so if your cat tells you to leave them alone, it’s best to take heed.
- Diet and Exercise
Two common conditions that are found in aging cats are an overactive thyroid and intestinal problems, both of which can lead to issues with weight. Being underweight is dangerous whether you’re a cat or human, and if your cat is underweight it’s important to discuss possible solutions with your vet, and make sure that your cat is getting the nutrients he needs. Cat obesity (just like in humans) can lead to diabetes, and can also be a big problem for your pet. Watch your cat’s weight as they age. If you see any gradual or drastic changes, your cat could have a problem.
Older cats often get dehydrated, so it’s important to leave out lots of water so your cat can access it easily, or incorporate a bit more wet food in your cat’s diet. Because health is all about balance, drinking too much water (along with weight loss) is a sign of chronic renal failure. Be sure to monitor your pet’s water intake, especially as they get older, and be aware of signs that your cat may need your help.
Treatment and Prevention
Ensure the health of your pet by taking some of the same steps you take for your own health. Stick to a diet that is nutritious. Exercise is important for your aging pet as well as for yourself. Work out alongside your four-legged friend, or purchase a laser pointer for him to chase. Workouts are more fun when you have a partner. Just remember to take things slow.
Pay close attention to gradual behavioral changes that continue over time. They are often signs that there is something wrong, but can be hard to spot. Make careful note of your pet’s habits as they age, and how those habits are changing. If anything seems to worry you – like significant changes in eating or voiding habits– seek help from your vet.
But Some Things Never Change
No matter what age your pet is, some things never change. They’ll probably need some help brushing out their fur and entertaining themselves– they’ll love you unconditionally for it. They’ll lean on you for some things (scratching behind their ears, keeping the fleas and ticks away, teasing their nose with a feather), and you’ll lean on them for companionship and love.
About the author: Maya Rodgers is an animal lover and her dog Mindy holds a very special place in her heart. When Maya isn’t playing with Mindy, her kids, or her husband, she leads an exciting career, largely consulting in bed bug treatment, planning her children’s college education, and blogging at http://www.petsandpests.com.