Guest post by Amy Shojai
Just because your pets have slowed down a bit doesn’t mean they know they’re old. Cats and dogs get their feelings hurt and have trouble understanding when owners, out of concern for their pets’ health, try to curtail activity. There are many simple, inexpensive ways to help pets continue to enjoy themselves. Remember, depression and stress go hand in paw, and both can impact physical health. Even more tips and details about old pet issues can be found in my “aging pet” books.
Today, you can find commercial foods designed to relieve disease symptoms and in some cases, cure them. Even otherwise healthy pets often prefer softer foods during their golden years. Dogs and cats with missing teeth find them easier to eat, and pets with less smell-sense find wet foods more pungent and appealing. Here’s a trick that can help.
Warm up food in the microwave for 10 seconds. That increases the scent and can stimulate flagging appetites, especially in cats. You can also add warm water to dry kibble, and run it in the blender for a familiar tasting but easy to eat meal.
Also, offer meals in small but frequent servings. For reluctant eaters, leaving food out all the time can “switch off” the appetite signals in the brain. Many cats in particular like to have their head and neck stroked while eating or to lick soft foods off your finger. Go ahead, spoil them!
Dogs tend to consider mealtime a social event. Try feeding your reluctant eaters at the same time you eat, or keep the dog company until he finishes his meal.
Soothe achy joints
What if arthritis makes leaps painful? Magic, my dog, now has trouble jumping into the car, and Seren, my cat, can’t do the single leap up to counters anymore to reach her favorite perches. So now, Seren gets a “leg up” so she can still sleep in her bed on the dining room table under the stained glass lampshade. The warmth from the lamp also soothes her arthritis.
Moving a box or chair nearby helps give less athletic seniors the leg up they need. Pet products companies offer pet ramps for easy access to beds or automobiles, so that King and Sheba won’t miss out on activities they relish, just because they’re old.
I’ve got both Magic and Seren on a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement that also helps. There are many OTC products and treats that may help and your vet can recommend the best ones for your furry wonders.
Joints require movement to naturally lubricate these “body hinges” or they’ll become even more painful. Encourage gentle exercise. If your dog adores playing fetch, or kitty loves chasing a mouse toy, indulge them. Just keep the toy near the ground so they won’t have to jump.
Blind and deaf pet tips
Get creative, and make the most of what your pet can still do. Deaf animals that still see often respond to hand signals, for example. Teach King that flashing the porch light means “dinner time” so he’ll still come running. Stomp your foot from across the room to alert him to your presence before petting him, to avoid startling your deaf pet.
Blind pets rely on memory to safely navigate so avoid re-arranging the furniture. Pet proof the house to protect them from injury. Place baby gates to prevent tumbles down stairs, and speak to Sheba when you enter a room to announce your presence. Use pleasant scent like mint for cats or liverwurst for dogs to leave a “breadcrumb” trail from their bed to the potty or food bowl, to help them find their way.
Add potty breaks
Schedule extra bathroom breaks for your pets. Eat lunch at home to accommodate his needs or add a pet door. There are many kinds, some that only open to the specific pet’s microchip or collar tag, so you can manage who goes out.
Add extra litter boxes so your cat won’t have to hurry across the house to find relief. Be sure you have one on each floor of the house and at both ends. If your cat has problems with stairs, move them to one floor. Shallower boxes allow arthritic cats to climb in and out more easily. I’m a big fan of plastic storage boxes that come in all shapes and sizes, and you may find one that works best for your cat family.
Older female dogs often have urinary accidents particularly while asleep due to loss of muscle tone that controls the bladder. They have no idea it’s happened, and the condition has nothing to do with potty training. Help her out with these tips.
Pick up her water two hours before bedtime and take her out before you go to bed. Reduce cleanup by confining her to linoleum areas, or protect carpet with sheets of plastic lined with Depend Undergarments to catch any accidents. If you have a washable dog bed, remove the cover and insert the stuffing in a plastic garbage bag to protect the filler, and put the cover back on over top of that.
Slow senility changes
Enriching your pet’s environment and stimulating her mentally acts like the fountain of youth for the brain. Puzzle toys, training games, and making the pet think improves cognitive function and delays the onset of senility and improves the memory.
So treat your competition dog by going through some obedience drills so she still feels like a winner. Take your dog hunting for the pure joy of being together again in the field. Cheer Sheba when she “kills” that toy mouse, and lower the bar so your agility dog can still manage leaps and get applause for running the course. Allow your pets to continue to participate in the things they loves most.
Ultimately, pets live longer, because we love them better. Today, dog and cat owners care—and care deeply—about the wellbeing of their animal companions. We know the love we share with King and Sheba cannot be easily replaced, and is a treasure to cherish and preserve.
About the author: Amy Shojai is a certified animal behavior consultant, a former vet tech, and author of more than 30 pet care books. You can learn more at her Bling, Bitches & Blood Blog