How to Care for Senior Pets

Read these 13 Tips  

We all know raising puppies is hard work! Yet taking care of senior dogs is even more challenging. If you have ever lived with a senior animal, then you know what I am talking about. Your dogs may have a few new medications or may need extra help getting onto the same couch they have been jumping upon for years. Arthritis may be developing, and your aging dog will need to see a veterinarian for pain management. Changing your approach after living with a young dog or even an adult dog for many years can be difficult. You will need to learn a few new tricks!

Pets are living longer than they ever have before, likely a result of improved veterinary care.

Today, 50 percent of the approximately 80 million dogs in this country are over the age of 7, which amounts to over 40 million senior or geriatric dogs living in the United States. That is a lot of senior dogs! 

Signs of an aging dog

Some signs of aging may include a change in eating and sleeping patterns. Keep a journal of the behavioral changes you are seeing for your vet. These details may help determine if pain management is needed to help alleviate age-related health concerns. 

13 tips on how to care for senior pets

Living with your older dog

1. Accidents. Seniors will have an accident at some point, and it is better not to fuss but to have some biozyme cleaner to clean up messes and use potty pads, either washable or disposable, for accidents. Also, leaving a potty pad on furniture or pet beds to help avoid messes (incontinence) is another tip. 

2. Inappetence.  As we get older, we tend to lose some of our zest for an early breakfast, and having an array of food options for a pet that will not eat will help. Add toppers! If your older dog is boycotting food and not just picky, you should make an appointment with your vet to rule out health issues. 

3. Keeping their minds alert. Changing routines so your senior can potty more often or hiring a dog walker to check-in on your dog or cat will help keep your older animals mentally challenged. 

Puzzle toys are another great way to keep your dog active. Having a few KONG toys stuffed and ready for your dog to enjoy during the day will let them exercise indoors if it is cold outside. Exercise is a great way to keep your dog’s nose alert, too, and a ‘scent walk’ does not have to be a long walk.  

4. Medication. Often your senior pet may have several pills they need throughout the day. Using a weekly pillbox to make mealtime quicker is an easy and adorable way to keep it all organized. You may also need to get creative when taking pills, so have deli meat and soft canned food available, so pills are easy to give and ‘no fuss’ after meals. 

5. Sight loss. Over time you may notice your dog is losing their sight. Always ask your vet to check their eyes if you notice any discoloration or behavioral changes. Older dogs may also have eye issues like glaucoma or cataracts, so your vet will rule out aging diseases from a more severe condition. 

6. Hearing Loss: Unfortunately, going deaf is another change many older animals may experience. Hearing loss is another reason to make an appointment with your vet; rule out that there could also be an ear infection. Talk to your vet about behavior like head shaking or pawing at one ear. 

According to VCA Hospitals, when you’re living with a deaf dog you may need to get creative.

“Because dogs naturally look to their humans for guidance, once we have their attention, we can teach them to associate specific hand signals and body language with the behaviors we desire. It may be worth seeking the assistance of a professional trainer who has experience working with deaf dogs.”

7. Increased number of vet visits. We found that as our dog’s age, we are visiting our vet more often for lab work and wellness appointments. Regular wellness exams and bloodwork are essential and serve as a baseline, so when your dog doesn’t feel well, your vet can compare and contrast older lab work. 

8. Dementia: Do you notice your dog pacing at night or running into corners and getting ‘stuck’ from time to time? Dementia is heartbreaking, but medications and natural supplements are available to help keep your older dog comfortable. 

9. Environment adjustments. There are many ways to make your environment more comfortable and safer for seniors. Adding rugs and runners in the kitchen where they eat or in the hallway will help them avoid slipping.

10. Travel. Having a safe crate in your car with blankets and perhaps pee pads will help your older dog feel more comfortable on trips to the vet or a car ride to the beach. Grab a disposable water bowl and water bottles to keep them from getting dehydrated.  

11: Coats. Your senior dog will likely get cold as soon as the seasons change, especially when daylight savings changes. It’s now dark all the time! Consider a few waterproof coats that have an extra layer to keep your dog from getting too cold on walks. 

12. Ramps and lifting harnesses to help with mobility. Ramps will help your senior dog get up on couches, beds, and into cars. If you need an extra hand to help them get up from a slippery surface, you may want to ask your local pet store staff about special harnesses. 

13. Pain management. Your vet may recommend medications, natural solutions, and remedies to alleviate age-related health concerns. If your older dog has joint issues, then a supplement may help. Get your doctor to prescribe a drug if your dog has any chronic pain to help ensure they aren’t stiff at night when they head out to potty. 

There are wonderful and effective modalities that don’t include medication like acupuncture, hydrotherapy, and massage therapy. Massage is wonderful for older animals that suffer from joint disease.

What about taking care of yourself when you are a caregiver for a senior pet?

Self care when you have older pets

Join a Facebook group with other senior dog parents. This senior dog club on Facebook has been a wonderful place for us to ask others how they care for their senior dogs (venting is allowed). The senior dog club is a support network that is invaluable for pet parents. 

Also, be gentle with yourself. It is ok to feel sad! Just the idea that our pets age and don’t live with us forever is heartbreaking. You must take care of yourself while you care for your senior pets. One thing I have learned is that you need a break too:

  • Try hiring a pet sitter or dog walker and get out of the house for a walk by yourself or even a trip to the grocery store; just take a break for an hour. 
  • Get some thoughts down in a journal and write some of those hard things you want to say down on paper. 
  • Talk with a pet death doula, and I know this sounds depressing, but when you’re in hospice mode, and your aging pet has many health issues, it’s easy to lose perspective. Here in Portland, we have excellent resources, including Ute Luppertz, Pet’s Point of View. Your vet is another fantastic resource. 
  • Live in the present with your dog and take in all the moments that may seem like ‘daily routine’ memories, but you will be glad you sat with them while they finished a meal. 

Please ask our staff if you have any questions about how to care for senior pets and do not forget to take care of yourself! 

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