You may notice your dog getting up more slowly after a nap. Your kitty may not jump up on high surfaces as often as she used to. Your pet may startle when you come up behind him.
As they grow older, pets encounter problems getting around, decreases in eyesight and hearing and other age-related changes.
No matter your pet's age, you should discuss any behavioral or physical changes you notice with your veterinarian first, to rule out an underlying condition.
If it turns out the problems are a natural result of getting older, don't despair. There are many, many things you can do as a pet owner to help your senior dog or cat adjust to the changes brought on by aging and continue to enjoy an excellent quality of life.
The topic of elderly pets is getting a lot of attention these days because companion animals are living longer, and pet parents are interested in keeping their aging four-legged family members happy and healthy in their golden years.
Create a Lifetime of Good Health for Your Pet
One of the best ways to keep your pet in good shape throughout his life is to focus on what I call the three pillars of health: species-appropriate nutrition; a sound, resilient body; and a balanced, functional immune system.
- Feeding your pet the diet nature intended him to eat builds a foundation for vibrant health.
- Keeping your companion well-exercised will prevent obesity and the health issues it creates in middle-aged and senior pets, like diabetes. Physical activity throughout your dog’s or cat’s life will also keep her mind stimulated and help prevent or delay cognitive decline.
- A balanced immune system responds appropriately to protect your pet from opportunistic pathogens, but doesn’t overreact, creating allergic conditions or an autoimmune disorder. The best way to keep your dog’s or cat’s immune system strong is to avoid over-vaccinating your pet.
Help for Hearing Loss in Older Pets
If you're suspicious your pet isn't hearing as well as he used to, observe his behavior. Signs of diminished hearing can include sleeping more soundly than usual or seeming to ignore noises that used to bring him running, like the squeak of a favorite toy or the whir of an electric can opener.
If you're convinced your pet's hearing isn't as sharp as it once was, make an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out medical problems that could interfere with hearing.
Understand that your pet may lose some or all of his hearing as he ages, so it's important to have a few tricks up your sleeve to help both of you adjust to the situation.
- Using hand signals and eye contact will help you communicate with your hard-of-hearing pet. Your dog can be easily trained, if he isn't already, to recognize hand signals for Come and Wait.
- Approach your sleeping pet or a pet that isn't facing you with caution. Make your presence known to reduce the chance of frightening your dog or kitty. Kitties, in particular, tend to startle easily. So if your new way of communicating with your hard-of-hearing cat is to alert her with a touch, be gentle in your approach.
- You may want to put a small bell on your pet's collar so even if she doesn't hear you calling or approaching, you can hear her or locate her easily.
- Be extremely cautious when allowing a pet with hearing loss outdoors. Your dog or cat won't necessarily hear danger approaching, no matter what form it takes. Your dog should be on a leash at all times unless she's in a secured area like a fenced backyard. If your kitty is accustomed to wandering the neighborhood, it's time to shrink her territory and confine her to a secure spot on a patio or porch. If that can't be arranged, unfortunately, for her safety, it's time for your indoor-outdoor pet to become in indoor-only cat.
Tips for Caring for a Senior Pet with Poor Eyesight
The most common cause for loss of eyesight in elderly pets is cataracts.
If the appearance of your pet's eyes seems to be changing, for example, if they've developed a bluish-grey tint, it's time for a visit to your vet or a veterinary ophthalmologist for a diagnosis. Sometimes a change in the appearance of the eyes doesn't mean your pet's vision is becoming impaired, like in the case of another common eye condition of older pets called nuclear sclerosis.
If your vet determines your pet is indeed losing eyesight and there's nothing you can or want to do to try to improve the situation medically, don't be discouraged. Most pets who experience gradual loss of vision adapt so well using their other senses many pet parents are shocked to learn their older dog or cat is technically blind.
Cataracts can be caused by diabetes, so again, it's important to keep your pet at a good body weight throughout his life.
- Bilberries are a rich source of flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties. When taken in capsule form combined with Vitamin E, they protect the eye tissue of humans and halt lens clouding in 97 percent of people with early-stage cataracts. This herb is safe for dogs, so it’s certainly something that might help and won’t harm your pet. Integrative Therapeutics Bilberry Extract.
- Leave a radio, television or other background noise on when your pet will be home alone. This will give her a reference point, and should also help mute noises that may startle her.
- Avoid moving furniture around, keep household ‘travel lanes’ clear, and minimize clutter. The easier it is for your pet to navigate through the house, the less likely it is she’ll become disoriented or injure herself. Cover up slippery surfaces to keep your pet’s confidence up on slick surfaces.
- Use natural scents like aromatherapy products (I use lavender oil) to ‘mark’ special spots in the house, for example your pet’s water dish.
- Don’t move your pet’s feeding station around, and if your companion is a cat, don’t move the litter box from place to place. A familiar environment and daily routine are especially important to elderly pets with diminished faculties.
Older Pets and Incontinence
Some degree of incontinence, usually urinary, is fairly common in aging pets. If you're noticing urine dribbling in an aging companion animal, of course the first thing you'll want to do is have your cat or dog seen by your veterinarian.
Older pets can develop weak pelvic floors or poor bladder tone, which can result in urinary incontinence. Also, if your dog, for example, has signs of canine dementia, she might just forget to let you know she needs to go out. Her bladder overfills and there can be dribbling.
Some suggestions for helping an older incontinent pet:
- If your aging friend is a canine, you’ll want to start making more frequent potty trips outside. If your dog no longer uses a crate or has never used one, this might be a good time to introduce or reintroduce your pet to crate training.
- Dogs with age-related incontinence can be fitted with dog bloomers or panties with absorbent pads -- you can even use human disposable diapers and cut a hole for the tail. Keep in mind urine is caustic and should not remain on your pet’s skin for long periods, so if you use diapers, be sure to change them frequently or remove them during times when your pet isn’t apt to be incontinent.
- If your pet is incontinent primarily during sleep, there are pet incontinence beds that work by pulling moisture away from the animal and down into a tray.
- If your senior kitty is eliminating outside the litter box, chances are it’s not an incontinence issue and you should have her checked by your vet for possible underlying conditions. You may need to change the type of litter box, for example if the sides are high. You may need to relocate the box to the first floor, for example, or to a spot that feels more secure to your kitty. You may need to scoop and/or sanitize the box more frequently. If you have more than one cat and they share a litter box, you may need to provide them each with a box.
- Some parents of elderly incontinent pets make the decision to replace carpeting with flooring that is easy to clean and sanitize.
As you can see, there is an abundance of things you, as the guardian of an aging pet, can do to help your dog or cat grow old gracefully and with dignity.