November is National Adopt a Senior Pet month. While many people gravitate to puppies and kittens in the shelter, there are advantages to adopting a senior pet.
Due to advances in nutrition and health research, dogs and cats are living longer than ever. Cats are now considered to be seniors from age 11 to 14 and geriatric at 15 or older. For dogs, the age at which they become a senior depends on size, as smaller dogs live longer while larger dogs age much more quickly. More and more often one hears of smaller dogs living to be 20, with medium size dogs living well into their teens.
While that’s great for the millions of people who want to live every extra minute possible with their fur friends, unfortunately it means that more senior pets are dumped at shelters. When cats lose their spunk and dogs start to droop, some people trade them in for a younger model. These trusted older friends are often high on the list for euthanization because older pets are fragile and languish in the shelter environment as people pass them by for puppies and kittens.
While puppies and kittens are great, senior pets have some great benefits that can’t be denied. For cats, the spells of flying up and down the hallway and over the bed in the middle of the night are minimal. Older cats prefer to sleep when their humans sleep. Older dogs are potty trained and have less propensity for separation anxiety when humans away. When people are home, all they’ll want to do is cuddle up close. There truly is something to say for the companionship of older pets.
Do you have a senior pet or plan to adopt one? Just like people, pets have changing needs as they age. Here are some things to keep in mind in order to help your senior pet stay healthy and happy for their golden years.
Diet. Weight problems for pets are just as bad as they are for people. Excess pounds can be bad for heart health, joints and more. If your older pet is less active, as most senior pets are, he or she will need fewer calories. Try feeding fresh foods, high quality commercial products, or foods formulated for specific health issues, such as urinary tract or kidneys. Limit portion sizes and consider supplementing with glucosamine or fish oil for joint health.
Exercise. Senior dogs and cats are less active but keeping pets fit helps them to maintain a healthy body weight and helps with health problems like stiff joints from arthritis. Be sure to keep exercise sessions short at first, and gradually increase the duration until you know just how much to work for them to feel good, but to not feel overtired or sore the next day. Don’t exercise senior pets when it’s too hot or too cold.
Veterinarian. Regular check-ups are more vital as your pet ages. Exams and blood tests at six month intervals can help veterinarians establish a baseline of what is normal for your pet, which can help with identifying when something is not right. Age-related diseases may be subtle, and symptoms can be easy to overlook, so if you notice any changes in your pet’s behavior, appetite, or energy level, be sure to check with your veterinarian.
Dental Hygiene. Dental disease is painful and may make it difficult for your senior pet to eat. You can buy special treats, toothpastes and toothbrushes to keep your pet’s teeth clean. There may be a point, though, when your veterinarian recommends a professional dental cleaning. This is a simple procedure where the pet is sedated and the teeth are cleaned.
Accessibility. Older cats and dogs may develop arthritis or other musculoskeletal problems, which can make it harder for them to move around. Some things you can do to help them get around the house is to provide ramps to get up on the bed or get down the stairs outside. Make sure litter boxes have low doors or edges to make them more easily accessible. There are also a range of senior pet product available, including orthopedic pet beds and more.
Safety. In addition to having bodily aches and pains that make it hard to move around, some older pets experience loss of sight and/or hearing. Some extra care will keep older pets safe, such as keeping walking spaces clear and using pet gates to create a safe spaces for your pet when you are not around.
Mental Stimulation. The old saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is wrong. In fact, just like with people, mentally challenging older pets can help to keep their brains young. Play interactive games and give them puzzle toys, as well as other fun activities you can think of. One trick you might have to teach older dogs who have lost their hearing is how to respond to hand signals.
Cuddles. As pets age, physical contact becomes more important than ever. Animals with and without joint pain may benefit from therapeutic massage. Pets that have a difficult time grooming themselves may benefit from extra brushing. It’s also a great time to bond with your pet.
If you are planning to adopt a dog or cat soon, or plan to in the future, consider adopting a senior pet. They have just as much love to give as a young pet and you could be saving a life. After all, every animal deserves a chance.
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