Archive | November, 2018

Senior Pet Health

How to Manage Your Senior Pet’s Health

Most pets are considered to be senior when they reach 7 years of age, and can live to be 10-13 years old for dogs, or 13-17 years old for cats. These estimates vary with every pet depending on a variety of factors, including breed. With advancing veterinary care and more advanced research into proper pet care, it is not uncommon for our companion animals to live beyond these estimated time spans. Because of this, it is important that pet parents know the best ways to manage their aging pets. Primary areas of concern for senior pets are health and disease management, nutrition, physical exercise, mental stimulation, and end of life decisions.

Health and Disease Management

The most important way to care for your senior pet is to bring them to the veterinarian regularly. This will ensure you catch any diseases, pains, or other health concerns early enough to treat or prevent suffering. When we live with an animal, we can sometimes oversee little changes that indicate something is wrong, so regular visits to the veterinarian can help you keep on top of these changes. We want our pets to be their best selves all the way until the end, and having a good relationship with your vet with help make that happen.


Senior pets have different nutritional needs than younger pets. Often, they require fewer calories due to a slower metabolism and overall decrease in activity. To prevent weight gain in older pets, it is advised to switch them to a senior diet. Many brands of pet food offer senior varieties that are lower in fat and higher in fiber. Being overweight can cause a number of health problems as they age and affect mobility, so be sure to keep your pet at a healthy weight throughout their whole life. It is much harder to get weight off of a senior pet than a young one with a lot of energy!

On the other end of the spectrum, some older pets lose their appetite and can become too thin. There are a number of ways you can encourage them to eat, such as buying food with smaller kibble so it is easier to chew and swallow, or adding broth, wet food, or other yummy items to their kibble to make it more appealing and softer to eat. You could also talk to your veterinarian about homemade diet recipes that your pet won’t be able to resist. Many veterinarians recommend feeding senior pets 3-4 smaller meals throughout the day, as big meals can be harder on their digestion systems.

Physical Exercise

One factor that can determine the health and longevity of a pet is how much daily exercise they get. Exercise helps keep muscles, joints, and bones active and healthy, but also helps prevent other health issues, such as heart disease, and improves mental health. You should provide daily exercise for your pet at any age, but it is especially important with senior pets to keep them moving. Your senior pet may not be able to exercise the way they used to but it is important to keep them doing the things they love at a pace they can handle. For your daily walks, your dog may not be able to go as far or as fast as they could. They may even be a little reluctant to get up and out, but it is important to take the time and patience needed to get them their daily exercise. Be prepared to let them sniff more or take breaks as needed, and adjust your route as needed. Swimming is a great form of exercise for senior dogs (and maybe some brave cats…).

Senior pets usually are less playful than their younger selves, but they can definitely have their bursts of energy and you should take advantage of that whenever they offer it to you! The play may not be as vigorous as it once was, and that is ok. If you throw a ball with your dog, or play with the laser pointer with your cat, be mindful that they have aches and pains and keep the play milder to prevent injuries. Senior dogs will definitely rest more, especially after a busy day or a particularly fun bought of exercise. Use this time to give them extra snuggles and pets!

To read more information about mental health and end of life decisions for our senior pets, visit our blog articles!

Senior Pet Proof Your House

Tips to Make Getting Around a Little Easier for Your Senior Pet

Senior pets can have a harder time getting around, so here are a few ways you can help make it a little easier.

  • Provide comfortable beds in frequently used locations. Thicker beds or heated beds will feel good on your pet’s aching body.
  • Put throw rugs in areas where they frequently walk or stand, especially if you have hard wood floors or other smooth flooring. Older animals can have a hard time getting around on smooth floors. This might prevent them from being as active or could put them at risk of injury if they are slipping around. Keep in mind places where your pet might be jumping down onto the floor, like jumping off of the couch, bed, or cat tree. Also think about the stairs, and providing them a throw rug at the bottom of the stairs or any landings along the way down.
  • Make sure commonly used paths are free of clutter to prevent tripping and injuries. Try to keeps important items in a consistent location, such as food, water, beds, toys, litter boxes, and even tables and chairs. This will help your pet as their vision gets worse. Also, be aware of sharp edges around the house and add some cushioning to hard objects that your pet might frequently bump into.
  • Remove any cords or strings from pet reach. Aging pets cannot see as well or may be suffering from dementia, so getting caught in dangling strings or cords can put them at risk of strangulation.
  • Provide ramps or stairs up to beds, couches, or cars as needed. Older pets will have a harder time jumping up or off high surfaces, and doing so may increase their risk of injury. Steep stairs might also give your pet a problem as they age, so providing ramps can be a good alternative. Many pet supply stores sell different types of stairs and ramps. Building them could be a fun DIY project, also.
  • If you have an aging cat, provide them a litter box on every level of the house. Moving up and down levels to use the bathroom might become difficult for them. Providing easy accessible litter boxes can help prevent accidents out of the box.

Every pet is different and will have different needs as they age. To find other ways to make your pet more safe and comfortable as they age, monitor them. Watch them move around the house and figure out what areas or activities are giving them the most trouble, and find a way to fix it.

Mental Stimulation for Senior Pets

Mental Health is Just as Important 

 Mental health is just as important as physical health, and is especially important for senior pets. Senior pets often are not able to do all of the activities that they used to be able to do, and as a result can suffer from boredom and depression, but mental stimulation can be just as tiring to an animal as physical exercise. There are plenty of ways to keep your senior dog busy, from training to nose work to problem solving games! Remember that older animals may be a little stubborn at first, so when first introducing a new game or training a new behavior, go slow at first until they understand what you are asking.


You may have heard the old saying “you can’t teach old dogs new tricks” but it is not true! You can absolutely teach old dogs new tricks. The best part about training an older animal is that you can train just for fun. They probably already know all the basic commands, such as sit and stay, so you can focus on more fun behaviors like paw, spin, or bow. There is an endless list of behaviors to train on the Internet, so get out your clicker and some treats and get to work! Combine mental and physical stimulation by using training to create a sequence of behaviors for your dog to do to stretch their body different ways, like doggy yoga! Remember, cats can be trained too!

Nose work

Even while their sight and hearing begin to fade, many pets maintain an excellent sense of smell making nose work an excellent option for mental stimulation. Here are some examples:

  • Throw their kibble on the floor or in the yard to encourage them to use their nose to find all the pieces.
  • Hide yummy treats around the house and let them sniff the treats out.
  • Put a little dab of a scent on a toy and ask them to find it in a hidden location, or just put different scents around the house for them to explore.
  • Allow them to follow scents and to sniff to their heart’s desire on their daily walks.

Problem Solving Games

To help keep your pet’s mind sharp, incorporate some games into their daily lives. The possibilities are endless so here are just a few examples of games to play with your pets, or ways to get them to problem solve:

  • Put some kibble and treats in a puzzle feeder for them to work out. A puzzle feeder can be as simple as putting a few treats in an empty water bottle and having them figure out how to get the kibble out.
  • Put a treat under a cup and scramble it around with other cups so your pet has to guess which cup holds the treat.
  • Assign names to your dog’s toys and ask for them each by name. You could also teach your dog to put the toys away into a bin by name, if you’re really ambitious! (Some cats may be able to do this!)
  • Play hide and go seek with your pet. Ask them to sit and stay, then go hide and call them to you.

Deciding When it’s Time

End of Life Decisions

One of the hardest parts about owning a senior pet is knowing when it is time to let them go. Because we see them everyday, it can be hard for pet parents to recognize when their pet is suffering, and some pet parents may even be in denial. When our pets are younger we may set certain guidelines of when we will euthanize, such as when they start going to the bathroom in the house, or when they can’t walk as well, but then when we get to that stage we may want to hold on a little longer. This is one of the many reasons it is important to have a close relationship with your veterinarian so that you can work together to decide when it is best to consider euthanasia. Veterinarians will be able to give you a more objective opinion about your pet’s quality of life, and help you see if your pet is suffering. You could also have a close friend or family member agree to tell you when they think it is time.

The following quality of life scale is used by many veterinarians to help pet owners monitor their pets as they age. Your veterinarian might even have his or her own scale or may be able to recommend a local hospice veterinarian to help you make the decision. We all struggle with this decision with our own pets and it is a hard decision to make, so do not be afraid to ask for help from others.