Do you have an aging pet that needs help? No matter what type of pet you have, they will eventually reach a time in their life when they need a little extra attention. Elderly dogs and cats can be quite frail and sensitive. They can also develop health issues you might not immediately associate with old age.
Pets age just like people, and it’s important to pay attention to their health at every stage. There are many positive benefits to caring for an aging pet, including reducing their stress (from strange-smelling furniture and stairs or other home hazards) and creating happy memories.
We have always had dogs, usually at least five dogs at a time. As the last group passed away, we did not add more. Our remaining dog is gorgeous Xena Lee, a Landseer Newfoundland. The normal life expectancy for a Newfie is 8-10 years, and she is now 12 and a half years old. This is the year, though, when her age is becoming problematic.
She now struggles with stairs, slippery surfaces, eyesight, hearing, occasional accidents (always on her pee pads, thank goodness), and lethargy. I am thankful that COVID allowed me to leave my job and create a new career for myself from home. I get to spend every day with Xena!
What have I learned along the way with so many dogs? Before moving on to the tips – let’s discuss pet insurance.
If you don’t have a plan, now is the time to set one up. As your pet ages, you’ll likely face several unexpected veterinary costs and emergencies. Pet insurance can help with these expenses. You can also use your deductible to pay for routine care, like vaccinations and checkups. The best time to get pet insurance is when your dog is a puppy. Keep in mind that not all policies are alike. Often they will exclude coverage on breed-specific conditions. For example, most will not cover hips on German Shepards; or knees on English Mastiffs. Also, some insurance companies are easier than others to work with, and your veterinarian may be able to recommend a certain plan.
Another option is if pet insurance will cost you $30 per month – if you can be disciplined, put the $30 a month aside for pet expenses.
1. Increase Wellness Exams to Twice Per Year
As your pet ages, keep a close eye on its health by increasing wellness exams to twice yearly. During each visit, ask your veterinarian about changes or concerns with how your pet looks or acts. This will help prevent small issues from becoming big problems later on down the line.
As pets age, they are more susceptible to health issues like cancer and heart disease — both of which can be expensive (and life-threatening) to treat. By increasing the frequency of wellness exams from yearly to twice yearly, you’ll have the opportunity to catch any potential problems early on — before they become serious issues that require costly surgery or medication.
2. Healthy Diet
You should consider changing your pet’s diet as it ages. Older animals tend to have more sensitive stomachs than younger ones and may not be able to tolerate the same food they used to eat. You might also want to switch to high-quality senior pet food specially formulated for older dogs and cats. The best way to keep your aging pet healthy is to feed him a high-quality diet. Look for foods with plenty of protein, fiber, and omega-fatty acids. These nutrients are important for healthy skin and coat, digestion, and immune function.
If your veterinarian offers the option to run allergy testing on your dog (at any age), I highly recommend doing it. It may seem like an unnecessary expense, but many illnesses and symptoms can easily be resolved with a diet tailored to your pet. For example, Xena two years ago almost passed away. We spent thousands of dollars trying to keep her alive. Trip after trip to the emergency vet resulted in bills but no real answers. I found a vet (and stayed with him) that suggested allergy testing. I didn’t believe it would make a difference, but it was the last thing to try. Now I will do testing on every future dog. She is allergic to everything we were feeding her – wheat, beef, sweet potatoes, and peanut butter. She is on a strict diet, and no one feeds her except me.
3. Watch for Any Signs of Discomfort
As your pet ages, he may develop arthritis or other joint problems that cause pain or discomfort when he moves around or gets up from lying down. You should watch carefully for any signs of discomfort when he gets up from lying down or after being out in the yard for long periods (like a walk). If he seems stiff or has difficulty standing back up again, help him in an upright position as soon as possible so that his joints can regain their full range of motion. In this respect, they are no different than humans. As we age, stuff simply hurts!
4. Dental Care
Many older pets develop problems with their teeth. This can lead to gum disease, which can be painful and cause other health problems. If you notice your pet drooling more than usual or if you see redness in the mouth, take your pet to the vet right away. Your vet will examine the gums and teeth of your aging pet and may recommend dental cleaning by an oral surgeon or veterinarian specializing in dental care.
5. Home Changes
As your pet ages, she may need help climbing stairs and furniture. She may not be able to jump into the car anymore or even walk on slippery surfaces like tiles or wood floors. If she starts falling down often, it could be time for some home changes:
- Install nonslip rugs in high-traffic areas like doorways and stairways.
- Consider installing ramps for easy access to beds or couches if your pet has trouble jumping up on them.
- Remove throw rugs or other slip hazards from their environment so that they don’t fall when they walk across them.
- Remove obstacles that may not be as easy for them to see or navigate.
- Understand that bladder control may become an issue, and teach your dog to use puppy training pads between trips outside.
Aging pets have an amazing ability to persevere through illness and old age, but this doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do to help keep them healthy. Taking care of your pet as they age can be a difficult balancing act, but it’s important not to assume that all older dogs and cats need palliative or hospice care. With the right combination of care, lifestyle changes, and attention from their owners, our pets may be able to enjoy a longer life than we expect.