It feels like just yesterday that your tiny puppy or kitten was darting around and unrolling the toilet paper. Now you’ve been together long enough that your good girl has become a golden girl! And while caring for an aging pet can be a challenge, it can also be super rewarding for both you and them. That’s why The Dodo spoke to Dr. Amanda Schnitker, medical director at Companion Animal Hospital River North in Chicago, about tips on how to make your pet’s twilight years the best ones yet.
REARRANGE YOUR HOME
Anyone who has ever woken up sore after a workout has come to grips with getting older. Use your own aging body to help you remember to tune into aches your pet might have. Watch for changes in their habits. For example, if your pet needs to lie on the floor to eat from their bowl, consider elevating their food and water dishes to make meals more like a drive-in than a picnic.
When it comes to your formerly frisky feline, according to Schnitker, a new litter box can make all the difference; look for something larger with a lower lip. “Cats get arthritis in their spines, not necessarily their limbs, and [turning in] tight circles can give them trouble,” she says. “They’ll get aversion to litter boxes and start going outside the box unless it’s larger.” If you have the room for it, large circular litter boxes are ideal for any aged cat.
If all these accommodations are making you see dollar signs, don’t panic! Think about affordable non-pet store products that will serve the same purpose. For example, use a wooden block instead of an expensive plush staircase to help your pets up to their favorite nap spots. Or instead of completely scrapping your cat’s multi-level tree because it’s more difficult to climb, add blocks or ramps to make the higher platforms easier to reach.
REARRANGE YOUR ROUTINE
Not very long ago, your dog could fetch a frisbee for hours. But lately, they’ve been slowing down halfway through the fun. Instead of cutting out play completely, Schnitker says keeping your pets moving, albeit a little less, will make them more mobile in the long run. “I talk to [pet owners] about how exercise is so important for all of us as we age,” she says. “The more you become inactive, the harder it is to become active again... You want to keep them active and mentally engaged as they age to keep their brains and bodies strong.”
Scheduling long walks, or even going for joint-friendly swims, takes more time than a quick sprint around the block, but adjusting to the needs of your faithful friend is a way to honor their years of loyalty.
And don’t forget about the mind games! Puzzle feeders, which require pets to solve a small puzzle to receive their food, are great for keeping minds sharp.
ADJUST THEIR NUTRITION
Remember when you could pack away a pizza and a funnel cake while crushing a cherry slushy? Good times! But most adults who try to maintain the dietary choices of their youth quickly find that things just don’t sit quite like they used to. The same goes for your pet.
Although many pet food brands have geriatric formulas, nutritional needs of older pets are not one size fits all. Schnitker recommends switching pets to Hill’s brand pet food because of its carefully dialed-in ingredients. Hill’s food supports everyday vitality, and while recipes vary, they include things like powerful antioxidants, unique fibers, fruits and vegetables, and varied proteins. But, Schnitker says, don’t make the switch too quickly. “It should be over a week,” she says, “gradually switching them over.”
Even if your cat or dog has very specific nutritional needs, Hill’s has countless formulas that are formulated for everything from aging to health concerns like weight loss and food sensitivities. There are even therapeutic nutrition options to help deliver exactly what your pet needs for optimum health.
CONSIDER THE COSTS OF OLD AGE
While you may not be spending as much on repairing chewed-up shoes anymore, senior pets have their own unique costs to keep in mind. “People still need to be aware that the most expensive time in a pet’s life is when you first get them,” Schnitker says, “[but] the second time is when they’re in old age; when they need healthcare and aides to transition them into the aging process.” The American Animal Hospital Association even recommends a senior-pet screening by the vet at age 7 for most pets in order to get a baseline health assessment, as well as potentially provide early detection for some health issues.
You might be thinking, “Whew, good thing my pet isn’t sick.” We’re glad too! But investing in preventative care now will help keep you out of the vet’s office later. Routine annual lab work will screen for the most common illnesses, but take your vet’s advice to best support your pet’s needs.
We know, watching your pet age can be hard! But with the proper care, you’ll be able to enjoy this phase together -- just like you always have.