Caring for Senior Pets

Tonya Tenters, CVT
Associate Veterinary Industry Representative
Veterinary Pharmacovigilance Specialist
Pet Poison Helpline

There is always a lot of discussion about puppy and kitten care including house training, litter training, puppy/kitten-proofing the house.  What we do not talk about a lot of times is the other age group that can require a little more attention: the geriatric group.

Unfortunately, our pets grow older and none us want to see or think about this occurring. In general, pets are living longer and the population of geriatric pets is increasing. This means that we get more time to love these elderly animals, but we need to also consider and support their changing needs.

Here are some things to consider as your pets age. Like people, eyesight starts to diminish, hearing goes, and mobility becomes an issue.  Dietary needs and mental status can change rapidly. These are all things that can be acknowledged and there are some simple solutions to help our senior pets.

If you know your cat or dog has diminished vision, cataracts, or is blind you should make sure to keep household items in the same locations. Do not change the furniture placement, their litter box locations, or food and water bowls placement in the home if at all possible.  If a change must happen, you will need to help your pet accommodate by treat training, and encouraging the pet safely and frequently to the new locations until the pet has become attuned to the changes. Be aware that even one or two steps may now cause them some hesitation or even pose a risk for a fall.

Mobility will become challenging as our pets age. Arthritis can impact their ability to get around like they used to do both inside and outside the home. As a pet owner we can ease this challenge by making sure they have soft, low beds to sleep upon, reducing the number of stairs that they must climb, and monitoring their physical activity so that they are not crippled in pain the next day. Discuss pain management medications, diets, and supplements with your veterinarian. All these measures can go a long way to improve your geriatric pet’s daily life.

For both dogs and cats, there are certain diseases and conditions that can develop with age. Recognizing if your pet is suddenly losing or gaining weight is very important. If noticed, it is best to discuss with a veterinarian, rather than just assuming the diet is the cause.  While a simple diet adjustment may be all that is needed, sometimes weight changes indicate serious health concerns including endocrine disorders, such as diabetes mellitus or hyperthyroidism, and neoplasia.

The bottom line is that our pets do age and we can help them age well and assist in making their golden years great.