A dog's muzzle often turns gray as it ages, but in cats it is difficult to distinguish an older animal. Even so, as a pet ages, its needs change - as your furry friend's owner it's up to you to make sure your companion gets the best possible care to enjoy its senior years.
Today people are living longer than their parents and grandparents. And the same is true for our pets. For many of us, our dogs and cats are members of our families, so it’s important to know how to help them enjoy their senior years.
There are things we can do to help our older pets, often the same things we should do for ourselves. First on the list is a good diet that is high in nutrition, easy to digest, and perhaps lower in calories to control weight, since senior animals may not be as active as they once were.
Exercise is especially important for aging animals because it improves both their physical health and their mental health - so take your dog for short walks, or play games with your cat. (The red dot of a laser pointer can be a big help to exercise your feline friend.) Keep in mind that your aging pet may not be able to move as well as it used to because its joints could be getting a little stiff. Your veterinarian may suggest a supplement to help with that.
Good dental health is critical for older dogs and cats. Talk to your veterinarian about a dental exam for your best friend, and possibly getting those teeth cleaned. Be aware - that procedure will involve anesthesia, because your four-footed friend is unlikely to sit still and “open wide” for the vet.
So when does an animal become a “senior” pet? For cats, usually between 7 – 10 years old. For dogs, it depends on their size. Small breeds are considered senior around 10-12 years old. For medium size breeds, it’s 8-9 years old, and the big dogs are seniors at only 6-7 years of age.
November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month, a great time to visit your local shelter to find an older dog or cat to share your home and your heart. And because senior animals are less likely to be adopted, they are more likely to be euthanized - even though they still have a lot to offer. So when you adopt one, you really are saving a life, and enriching your own, when you’re speaking of pets.