Cayenne, my older shepherd turned eleven this fall. I’m hoping she will stay eleven forever, but as much as I want to ignore it, she is starting to show her age. The graying muzzle, more time sleeping, and stiffness in the cold mornings. She still has more energy then dogs half her age, bosses around the young ‘uns, and doesn’t miss a thing, but I can’t ignore that she is now a geriatric. So what are some things you can do to help out your beloved senior pet?
**Make it easier for your pet to get around. For older cats they might not be able to jump as well onto furniture so you may place ramps or steps to help them get to their favorite sleeping place. Dogs may need ramps adding over stairs or stairs placed to allow them to get onto furniture. They may need their food and water bowls moved to a more accessible location if they cannot reach them anymore.
** And on the same note, keep them mobile, but don’t expect them to be able to play, run, walk and be as active as they used to be. But low intensity exercise can help keep older dogs and cats more mobile. And keeping them lean, puts less stressed on their older joints.
**Regular exams by your pet’s veterinarian are important. As pets get older it is even more important to have regular exams and bloodwork completed. Pets can hide diseases until they are serious and more difficult to treat. Ideally regular exams and bloodwork can find these diseases earlier. Of course there are always some diseases that come up quickly, but diseases found earlier may be easier to treat.
** Monitor for changes in appetite. Sometimes as pets age their appetite backs off and they are not eating enough to keep their body condition. This can be a normal aging process or it can indicate something else is going on. And sometimes their appetite increases and you have to decrease their food so they don’t get pudgy. Dog are prone to developing a disease called Cushings as they age and cats hyperthyroid-both of these diseases can make them very hungry. If you notice this, it is time to discuss this with your vet.
**Realize the cold weather can be ever harder on them. Most pets as they age, like people, develop arthritis. It gets a little harder to get moving, and they may not be as quick on their feet as they used to be. The cold weather can make them even stiffer. Your pet may need a little help for their arthritis.Joint supplements can be helpful, but sometimes more support can be needed, such as pain and anti inflammatory medications. Your vet can help with the best plan for your pet.
**Especially for older dogs, slippery floors can be difficult. Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed short and the hair clipped between the toes is important. Also adding area rugs over hardwood or tiled floors can make it easier for your geriatric dog to move around without sliding.
**Realize their senses may diminish with age. They may not see, hear, and smell as well. You may need to make modifications for them. However, must pets do adjust well to vision and hearing loss. They may startle easier especially when they are sleeping so be careful when waking them up from a deep sleep.
**Pets can develop dementia similar to people. This can appear as more anxiety and agitation, becoming “lost” in their normal environment, changes in behavior, and appetite, and more. Modifications may need to be made for them as their mental awareness decreases.
Remember that your pet ages faster then you. So your ten year old dog is really like a seventy year old person! And remember to enjoy every day you have with your pet!
Boo Donoho, DVM
Southern Animal Hospital