With aging comes a general slowing down.
This is true not only for people, but for our pets as well. Generally speaking, small dogs and cats may reach senior status at around 7 years old, while large dogs may qualify as senior citizens as early as age 5. However, even though Fido or Fluffy may not be as physically fit as their former selves, there’s always a bit of frisky puppy or mischievous kitten ready to come out and play.
One of the best ways to keep your pets in top shape as they get older is to schedule regular annual exams with your veterinarian. The ASPCA recommends that you ask your veterinarian whether you should bring in your senior pets for more frequent exams. This will help you and your veterinarian stay ahead of many of the health issues associated with aging. Also, remember that once you’re enrolled with ASPCA Pet Health Insurance, coverage will never be cancelled because of your pets’ age.
Here are a few more tips to keep your older pets acting young at heart:
Even moderate play sessions are a great outlet for senior pets’ animal instincts as it keeps their minds occupied and senses sharp. If you play fetch with your older dog, throw the ball or toy a little closer, and repeat the toss fewer times than you did when they were younger. "Wrestling" and "keep away" are two fun games to play as they allow you to dictate the duration and intensity level. Meanwhile, crafty felines adore interactive toys that require your participation to make the objects come to life. Wave and dangle a wand toy or throw a sponge ball to get your cat up and moving. Cats also love to explore, so gather a variety of everyday items like cardboard boxes, paper shopping bags with the handles removed and packing materials, then introduce them at different times to keep your kitty intrigued!
Watch what they eat.
Older pets appreciate set routines, but when it comes to their food schedule, a few changes may be helpful. Consider feeding your pets smaller, more frequent portions to help with digestion. Talk to your veterinarian about switching to food formulated for senior pets as they will require a diet that is low in fat but still has adequate amounts of protein and fiber. In any case, speak to your veterinarian about specifics.
Teach new tricks.
Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? In fact, senior dogs are more calm and focused, which means they actually learn much faster than puppies. They’ll enjoy the mental challenge of learning new commands and the praise that comes with getting the directions right. Since they most likely know a few of the basics—like sit, stay or fetch—try teaching them how to play hide and seek. It will strengthen their problem solving skills and encourage them to come when called. Learn how to teach this game to your pet here. Cats are also quick learners and, with a little creativity and patience, can be taught to wave, fetch, sit, stay and even come when called. According to the ASPCA, “persuasion, not punishment, is the key to training your cat.” Find useful feline training tips here.
Finally, to get the most out of a veterinary visit, have accurate information and recent observations on hand to share about your older pets’ health and behavior. And don’t hesitate to voice any concerns. Here are some questions you can ask:
- Are there any routine tests that should be done to monitor my pet’s health?
- What can I do to make my pet more comfortable?
- What changes should I make to my pet’s diet?
- Are there any preventive treatments I should consider at my pet’s age?
- How can I tell if a change in behavior is a result of the aging process vs. a warning sign of an illness?
- How long should we have playtime every day?
- Is there anything I should watch out for or adjust during grooming sessions?
Dogs and cats in their golden years have fully developed personalities, which makes it easy to determine whether they’ll mesh with your household’s current inhabitants.
Skip stressful housetraining.
Unlike kittens that sleep or play in their litter boxes, older cats only use it for its intended purpose and are more fastidious about grooming afterward. Likewise, older dogs often know how to ask to be let outside and are less likely to have an accident.
Senior pets have calmer temperaments and are less destructive around the house. They’ve been around long enough to learn the difference between what is, and what isn’t, acceptable to chew, shred or bury in the backyard.
Gain an instant
While a young dog or cat’s high energy levels demand lots of activity and exercise, senior pets often prefer cuddling with their pet parents. Although playtime is still a must, the best part of the day is naptime, and they're often more than willing to share the experience.
Save a life!
While older dogs and cats still have plenty of love to give, they are often overlooked in favor of puppies or kittens. Check with your local shelter as many waive adoption fees for pets in their golden years.