As your cat or dog ages, new health concerns and challenges arise. Exactly when your pet becomes “geriatric” varies, as do the particular changes that come with this advanced status. In general, cats and small dogs up to 20 lbs. are considered elderly at 10 to 12 years of age, medium dogs from 21 to 50 lbs. at 8 to 10 years old, large dogs from 51 to 90 lbs. at 7 to 8 years old, and giant dogs weighing more than 90 lbs. at 5 to 6 years old.
Below are 11 tips for caring for your aging cat or dog. With proper care, you’ll keep your geriatric pet as healthy and comfortable as possible.
1. Increase visits to the veterinarian’s office. As your pet ages, up the annual well-check to semi-annual. Physical examinations, blood tests, urinalysis, and fecal examines should be performed once every six months so health problems are detected early.
2. Change your pet’s diet. Aging animals have different nutritional needs and their slowing metabolism requires fewer calories for maintenance of a healthy weight. Feed your pet the highest quality food you can afford, opting for a senior formulation. Ask your veterinarian about nutritional supplements, too.
3. Continue exercising your cat or dog. Activity is important at every stage of life for physical and mental health. Stick to shorter, less strenuous sessions, though. Watch for signs (such as obvious pain or discomfort) that your pet is overexerting.
4. Help your pet regulate her temperature. Geriatric animals are more sensitive to heat and cold and less capable of coping with it on their own. Make a small heat lamp or heating pads available during cold weather. Offer plenty of cold fluids, ice, and a fan during hot weather.
5. Facilitate bathroom needs. Your older cat or dog probably has to urinate and defecate more often, and she likely has a harder time getting where she needs to go quickly. Add extra litter boxes or pee pads around the house.
6. Keep the floors clear of obstacles. As your pet ages, walking becomes more difficult and her senses dull. Avoid clutter to prevent trips and the stress that can result from tricky navigation and less direct paths.
7. Manage arthritis. This painful and sometimes debilitating condition usually affects cats and dogs in old age. Talk to your veterinarian about supplements and medications to help. Provide soft bedding and plush, comfortable areas around the house. Ramps allow your pet to skip difficult stairs.
8. Maintain your cat or dog’s dental hygiene. Periodontal disease is a common old-age problem and dental infections readily spread internally. Brush your pet’s teeth and gums daily and use an oral rinse. Provide low-calorie, nutritionally fortified soft dental chews for your dog.
9. Be sensitive to dulling senses. Your elderly pet is probably experiencing diminished hearing or sight. Use a flashlight to get your hearing-impaired pet’s attention and increase use of visual cues. If failing sight is an issue, rely on audible cues and make everything your pet needs easy to find.
10. Provide mental stimulation. Geriatric pets are susceptible to cognitive dysfunction and decline. Get your pet an occasional new toy. Give treats in toys that challenge your cat or dog.
11. Offer lots of love. Just because your pet is growing older, it doesn’t mean your relationship has to be less affectionate or interactive. While your cat or dog may have less energy, she still wants love and attention.