Anyone who has had a pet will tell you that they are a valuable member of the family. For anyone who’s lost a pet, you know what a difficult situation that can be. However, for many people, handling their pet’s transition into old age can be unexpectedly burdensome.
While there are numerous types of pets, from snakes and lizards to cats and dogs, we’re going to concentrate on the big two. The reptile owners will have to wait. The reasons are simple: There are way more pets that are dogs and cats than lizards and snakes.
According to Statista, in 2017 there were 95.6 million house cats in the U.S. There were fewer dogs, but not by much, at 89.7 million in the same year. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s look at some ways to make Fluffy and Fido more comfortable as they age.
Senior Tips for Aging Cats
It wasn’t that long ago that cats between the ages of 7 and 10 were considered “seniors.” However, with improved nutrition, senior status usually isn’t reached until at least 12, prompting cats everywhere to exclaim, “15 is the new 10” — if they could talk, that is. Vet bills can get out of hand for aging cats. If you suspect this may be the case with yours, consider pet insurance.
According to one study, 90 percent of cats over the age of 12 have arthritis. If your cat is less active, has obvious mobility issues, or doesn’t jump onto the kitchen counter every time you open a can of tuna fish, this is a sign that he may have arthritis.
Of course, those mobility issues could also be due to obesity, which is a big problem for cats, as they tend to become less active with age. Another common issue is dental problems, including gum disease. If your cat’s breath is terrible, or if you notice that Whiskers’ not eating as much or cleaning himself as often, this could be the reason why.
Emily Levine, DVM, recommends improving your cat’s access to fresh water, food, and litter. Senior cats don’t want to go up and down stairs, so putting these things on every floor may become necessary. Also, a cat having trouble getting over the sides of the litter box, consider buying one with lower sides or using a cookie sheet with a newspaper draped over it.
If your senior cat has a favorite chair or windowsill he can no longer reach, consider installing a ramp or stairs. Make sure the surface isn’t slick though! Carpeting will provide firmer footing and help keep your cat safe.
Nightlights are a great idea for cats with worsening vision. Also, if your senior cat is going blind, call his name before approaching him. If your cat is deaf, approach him from the front so he can see you coming.
Grooming may become a problem, especially for long-haired cats, which means they’ll require your help. Also, while a few cats will prefer to be left alone as they age, most will appreciate some emotional support. Finally, just like people, older cats can become set in their ways and prefer predictable, set routines.
Senior Tips for Aging Dogs
There are several common health issues for older dogs. Older dogs also don’t enjoy moving from one residence to another. If you have to make a move with an older dog, remember that this may be particularly stressful for her.
Senior status for dogs usually occurs between the ages of eight and 10, but it really depends on the breed, genetics, nutrition, and environment.
Like senior cats, aging dogs often suffer from arthritis. If your older dog is slowing down, can’t walk as far or play as long, and is reluctant to climb stairs or get into vehicles, these could be signs that she may be developing arthritis.
Dental problems are also a concern later in life and may even result in tooth loss. If your senior dog is having trouble eating, this may be why. However, that’s not the only reason an older dog might lose her appetite. If your aging dog has lost weight, this may also be a sign of kidney, liver, or heart disease.
Obesity is a higher risk in older canines. There are some dog food options specifically for them, but it’s essential to consult your vet before changing their diet. Also, check labels! Not all dried food is created equally. Another common issue, especially with older, obese dogs, are joint problems. You could help your wobbly pooch with a ramp, especially when getting in and out of the car.
Nicholas Dodman, head of the Animal Behavior Department at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, says older dogs are particularly sensitive to extreme temperature changes, whether it’s the heat of summer or winter weather conditions.
“They’re really like older people,” says Dodman. “Older people are often the ones who are the victims of these freezing bouts or extremes of heat. They’re less able to thermoregulate.”
“More than 50% of dogs 10 and older get cancer,” says Dodson, “it’s important to weigh all your options if that happens.” He recommends looking at their quality of life and how painful the procedures are. For older dogs, you’re usually not looking at a cure but merely a few extra months of life.
“If your dog has lost her vitality and interest in food and social interactions, that’s a bad sign,” says Dodson. There’s not much you can do at that point but make her more comfortable and consider putting her down.
Bob Barker Would Be Proud
Bob Barker, the longtime host of The Price is Right, at the end of every episode would say, “Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered.”
While it is indeed sad to see a beloved family pet grow old and eventually pass on, it’s even sadder to see unwanted dogs on the street or in shelters, where they don’t last long. At least family pets that were loved and given good homes had some good years.
Spay or neuter your pets. It’s a message that deserves to be passed on.
You’re welcome, Bob Barker.
About the Author
Frankie Wallace writes about a wide variety of different topics, from environmental issues to politics. Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho