Love your pets — no matter what. And when they get old, slow down and have problems, be sure you know what they need.
Mark Dorn recently lost two of his dogs to age-related conditions. While one died suddenly, the other gradually lost vigor and had mobility issues.
“As pals, Bob and Bandit more than filled their part,” Dorn says of his dogs. “I’m glad they were my buddies.”
Dogs and cats are considered “senior” sometime between 7 and 10 years old, says Dr. Susan Omstead of Aumsville Animal Clinic.
“Big dogs are considered senior earlier, around 7,” she says. “The smaller the dog, the later they become seniors. Pet rabbits are considered senior around 6 to 8 years old. Pocket pets such as rodents, about 2.5 years. Horses, around 20 years old.”
Signs of aging include slowing down, losing interest in playing, sleeping more, weight gain, arthritis or other pain, decreased vision and hearing, dental problems and bad breath, behavior changes, and urine or stool accidents in the house.
“Aging problems can include internal or metabolic problems, such as liver or kidney problems, thyroid issues, diabetes and cancer,” Omstead says.
Pets may need pain management and/or diet changes necessary for weight management or dental problems.
“They may experience behavior changes and crankiness that may come with pain, mental issues, vision and hearing loss,” Omstead says. “They may also experience less tolerance to weather. Outdoor animals need extra protection against cold and heat.”
Sweaters can be useful, but be sure the animal’s fur is aired out to prevent yeast infections on the skin, she says.
To give them the care they need, she recommends providing a good, quality diet in appropriate amounts; helping them maintain a healthy weight; offering daily exercise; controlling flea and internal parasites; and providing mental stimulation and interaction with their owners.
In 2002, Sue Benjamin rescued a three-legged cat found by firefighters. She named him Meko.
Now at age 17, Meko suffers from urinary tract infections and is less mobile.
“He doesn’t move so fast anymore as he has arthritis and his shoulder doesn’t hold him up as well as it did in his youth,” Benjamin says. “He had gotten lazier about making it to the litter box due to his decline in mobility, and thus would piddle when he thought he’d gone as far as he could hold it.”
Recently, Benjamin turned a bathroom into Meko’s sanctuary by adding a bed, toys, food and water. She brings him out in the morning, and lets him sit on her lap while watching TV in the evening. He now prefers his new sanctuary.
To help her Chihuahua during his senior years, Terri Ellen, owner of Salem Bed and Biscuit dog care, lets him chew on raw meaty bones and uses PetzLife oral spray to keep his teeth healthy.
“He is 14 years old with Cushings and lymphoma,” she says. “In spite of this, he is doing well.”
Her dog’s diet is raw venison or rabbit mixed with some cruciferous veggies. His supplements are Chinese herbs prescribed by her holistic vet; shark, krill and CBD oils; green lipped muscle; digestive enzymes; and herbal Inflapotion by Glacier Peak.
“I know this sounds like a lot, but it’s so much better than processed food and drugs because his immune system is weakened,” Ellen says. “I definitely would not allow any more vaccinations. Older dogs who have had multiple vaccinations don’t need more.”
To help pets age gracefully and safely, Ellen says pet owners need to be observant.
“Notice when they are limping or slowing down or using the litter box too often or having more accidents,” she says. “Visit the vet for regular checkups. And, of course, feed them a good healthy diet. Feed a good quality high meat food, the less processed the better. Raw or freeze-dried is best. Don’t bother with senior foods because there are not enough senior supplements in them to make a difference.”
Provide lots of exercise opportunities and a warm place to cuddle up, she says.