The Ultimate Guide to Raising a Happy and Healthy Senior Pet

If you have an aging pet at home, you may have started to notice a change in their personality or behavior. Perhaps they’re sleeping more, vocalize more often, or have stopped jumping up onto their favorite spot on the couch. Or maybe you’re simply all too aware that your pet is approaching “that age.” No matter the reason, taking care of an aging pet is all about being proactive. Just like with humans, consistent, educated lifestyle choices will ease the side effects of aging. And don’t we all want to age comfortably?

What Qualifies as a Senior Pet?

Your pet’s aging process depends on their breed and species, as well as their medical history. In general, small dogs and cats are considered “senior” at the age of seven, while larger dogs are considered “senior” at age of five or six. However, preparation for seniorhood can begin while your pet is still young; a healthy youth will lead to happy golden years!

Common First Signs of Aging

The first signs of aging are often subtle, making close observation of your pet essential. Sometimes, the subtle nature of these changes makes it difficult to catch the first signs of aging. 

Hearing and Sight Issues

Clinically, the first signs that your pet is entering seniorhood include a decline in the ability to see and hear. Initially, these changes are often subtle; you might notice that you’ve begun raising your voice a bit more in order to get your pet’s attention, or maybe you have to bring a toy closer to your pet’s face in order for them to notice it. Cataracts, or “a clouding of the lens inside the eye” may even be visible.

Osteoarthritis and Senior Pets

Another extremely common side effect of aging, osteoarthritis involves the deterioration of the cartilage that cushions the bones comprising a joint. Often spotted in dogs long before they enter their senior years – and extremely common among cats – osteoarthritis might first manifest as a general slowing down or decline in a pet’s overall energy level. Gradually, physical discomfort may become more obvious; you might notice your pet hesitating to jump up and down from their favorite spots, or they might even react when touched – a sign that they might be in pain. 

Dental Issues and Senior Pets

Often hard to spot, dental issues are very common among aging pets. Many pet owners first are tipped off to their pet’s dental issues by bad breath or a reluctance to eat. A veterinarian will help you pinpoint the specific cause(s) of your pet’s dental pain.

Behavioral Changes

Oftentimes, a general moodiness is the first indicator that a pet is getting older. Common signs include being startled by loud noises, increased meowing or barking, house soiling, as well as anxiety and irritability. Other behavioral changes, such as a change in sleep patterns, are also very common. 

Sometimes, senior pets develop dementia, caused by the aging of the brain, which will only exacerbate their anxiety. As they become less aware of their surroundings, this anxiety can lead to house soiling and other destructive behaviors. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) – is found in about 50% of dogs over the age of 11. It is critical that you consult a veterinarian if you think your pet is experiencing any of these issues, as behavioral changes can indicate a variety of problems.

Any drastic changes, such as sudden weight loss, require immediate veterinary attention. Your veterinarian will be able to rule out conditions such as cancer and diabetes, which become more common as pets age, via methods such as blood tests and biopsies.

Cats and the Complications of Aging

While dogs like to make their voices heard, cats are usually more subtle and private; they may not meow or show drastic changes in behavior as they age. For this reason, cats require a very close eye; cat owners should closely observe their pet’s routine, including where they like to spend most of their time, how they prepare to jump up and down (cats with arthritis show hesitancy), and how much they eat and drink. A helpful tool for telling if your cat is in pain is the FMPI – or Feline Musculoskeletal Pain Index – which helps measure the degree to which your cat is suffering from pain.

Prevention: How to Keep Your Pet Young

Routine physical and mental exercise – as well as proper nutrition – are all essential in order to keep your pet happy, healthy, and active. For dogs, the amount of physical exercise varies depending on breed and age; this piece from the AKC provides a helpful guide for figuring out how much exercise your dog will need as they move through each life stage. 

Although keeping a cat active might prove to be a bit more challenging, most experts recommend trying to get your cat to do moderate exercise for about 30 minutes a day. Set a good foundation as soon as possible by creating a routine for your pet that ensures enough physical and mental exercise, as well as proper nutrition. Make sure to work with your veterinarian to ensure that your pet is getting everything they need!

As your pet moves through all stages of life, tweaks will need to be made to account for the natural metabolic and physical changes that naturally occur as they age. This just requires careful observation – understanding your pet’s habits in order to keep them mentally and physically active, as well as comfortable, as they age. 

Prevention of Dental Issues

Dental care is also an essential preventative measure, so make sure you’re routinely monitoring your pet’s oral hygiene! Some of the most popular products for dental health include dental chews, using delicious-tasting toothpaste, and gnaw-on chew toys.

Caring for Your Senior Pet

It is important that you carefully observe your pet’s routine, as this will tip you off to any changes that might occur as a result of aging.

Physical Exercise and Senior Pets

As pets age, metabolism slows and they naturally exercise less, putting them at risk of weight gain. This can put a strain on an animal’s frame and limit their lifespan. To minimize this, try:

  • Regular, short walks for dogs
  • Swimming and other rehabilitative sports. These are great ways for dogs to do something low-impact!
  • Regular playtime with cats

For pets with movement issues, it is important to work with a professional to make sure you are properly managing your pet’s condition. Your vet may recommend one – or a combination of – the following:

  • NSAIDs
  • Physical therapy and/or massage
  • Supplements
  • Alternative therapies such as the Assisi Loop

Assisi Loop Therapy for Mobility Issues

One of the most common uses for Assisi Loop Therapy is for managing arthritis. Utilizing a targeted Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (tPEMF) signal, the Assisi Loop works to reduce the inflammation and pain associated with arthritis, making it perfect for senior pets. In addition, the Loop allows senior pets to be treated right at home – meaning they don’t have to deal with all the stress and discomfort often associated with medications and/or the frequent trips to the veterinarian that are required for many other non-pharmaceutical modalities. 

Fred, a 17-year-old Terrier, is one of the countless success stories for using Assisi Loop Therapy to manage arthritis. You can read all about his story – including how his owner discovered he had arthritis and how the Loop helped to manage his pain – right here

Mental Exercises for Senior Pets

If you notice your pet seems mentally sluggish or are worried about mental decline or coginitive dysfunction as they age, try these toys and games for senior dogs, or these brain games for cats. Not only will they help keep them alert, but they’re a great way for you to bond with your pet.

Calmer Canine and Age-Related Anxiety

Sometimes, senior pets can develop age-related anxiety, often associated with cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS). Mirroring the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in humans, senior pets with age-related anxiety will exhibit confusion and anxiety. To combat these issues, your veterinarian or behaviorist may recommend a variety of anti-anxiety medications, supplements, or therapeutic treatment methods. 

Many professionals are also opting for The Calmer Canine Anxiety Treatment System, which has been anecdotally shown to help with a vast array of anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety and age-related anxiety. Unlike other treatment methods, Calmer Canine produces long-lasting results and is side-effect and sensation-free.

Senior Pet Nutrition

Senior pets require different diets, so make sure that you work with your vet and provide your senior pet with a diet that, if needed: 

For pets with specific conditions, make sure to consult a veterinarian, as their condition will likely affect their recommended diet. Make sure you’re also providing your pet with plenty of water! This is especially important for cats, as kidney problems are common in senior cats. Your veterinarian may also recommend supplements in order to ensure your pet is getting all the nutrition they need.

Dental Care and Senior Pets

If you think your pet may have dental pain, see your veterinarian right away. Your veterinarian may recommend new methods for cleaning your pet’s teeth, as well as pain-relievers such as NSAIDS. The Assisi Loop is also a wonderful alternative to NSAIDs, as it removes the issue of pilling your pet. For a pet already experiencing oral pain, this is a life-saver. Charlie, an 11-year-old cat, is one of the many pets who uses the Loop to relieve dental pain. The Loop acts as a fantastic alternative to oral pain relievers, which can cause damage to a cat’s sensitive body.

What Are You Waiting For?!

It’s never too soon to start preparing for your pet’s golden years! Start by observing their routine. Then, with the help of your veterinarian, take note of any tweaks you think should be made in order to optimize their mental and physical wellbeing.