Managing Our Aging Pets Val Cairney
Hi everyone, and welcome as always to this episode of Val Talk’s Pets. So, one of the issues I have seen a bit on the rise is an interesting one, considering in topics past I’ve talked a fair bit about getting new puppies and how to avoid the pitfalls when looking for a new puppy and the food and toys etc. But, we can’t forget that many people have pets already and many of those cats and dogs are becoming senior. So, I thought it would be a good idea to have a look at how we can manage our pet’s health and mobility as they age.
One of the questions we get fairly often is when is a dog or cat considered a senior? That’s a great question. For cats, who live anywhere from 17 to 21 or even more in a few cases, the life stages of cats have been redefined. I remember taking Esme into the vet for something and when I told the vet she was 7 years old he said she was senior. I was actually shocked. I said, but she’s only 7!! If she lived to be only 14 that would make her middle age! Well, things have been redefined, thank goodness. According to International Cat Care, cats between 11- 14 years are considered senior with cats over 15 being super seniors. A 16 year old cat would be equivalent to an 80 year old human. Wow! Cats that age demonstrate in many ways some of the same things that happen to us as humans as we age. I know that sounds funny! They have a reduced ability to smell and taste food, to digest fat and protein, reduced hearing and immune function and they experience reduced skin elasticity and have less intolerance to stress. Well that sounds a lot like what happens to us. We often hear people tell us that their older cats just stop eating the food they always had or are becoming quite picky. Well as I do say, they lose taste sensation as they age so, yeah, they start to lose interest in some of their food. We also know that they sleep more and can tend to gain weight as they age. However, we also find that as they become super seniors they lose weight and we get these skinny old cats that really concern us. And the idea of being less tolerant of stress is a big one because I can tell you I have had quite a few conversations with people who have brought a new puppy into the home or a kitten or other pet and they have been met with some very disconcerting behaviour from their existing cat who in many cases is older and unfortunately this behaviour can be attributed to the inability to deal with the stress of a new pet coming into the home. So, this is a very important part of aging in cats that needs to be considered. As cats age they also can become more vocal, or meow more and become more insecure so they demand more attention and become more dependent on their human so their ability to be left alone for long periods may become an issue.
Okay, so your cat is hitting that age around 11 and he or she seems totally active and everything is going well. That’s fantastic. We have that with Rory. He turns twelve this month and he’s still quite active and has a good appetite. However, I have noticed he doesn’t tolerate the hot days outside as much as he used to and he had put on a fair bit of weight over the winter, but thankfully he really enjoyed the spring and took advantage of running outside and exploring, so he’s lost what he put on and I also changed him onto a Senior dry food. His senior dry food has less fat and protein and less sodium so that I would say is a big recommendation when your cat hits that age. I know that sometimes no matter how hard we try to get our cats to eat what we know is healthy, they just won’t. But, try different senior foods and see if you can get your cat onto a senior formula. As for wet food, there are also senior formulas in wet food as well. If your cat will eat these, then great. But, if you are in that area where your cat is really losing taste and smell and is not engaging in their regular wet food, try changing foods, go for some of the pouched foods that can be yummy and here is a tip as well, that some cats can be enticed if you warm up the food a bit. If food consumption is becoming a real issue, then you should have a good look at your cat’s teeth. There could be some dental issues going on that make eating painful for your cat. Another little trick for making eating still enjoyable is to use a slanted dish that allows your cat to access the food more easily and a small box to place the food dish on can really help, because this way your cat won’t have to bend down which could be uncomfortable. Along with eating, is keeping your cat hydrated. Older cats sometimes do not drink as much as they should, so have water bowls around the house so they can get to water easily. And again, raising the bowl may help.
As our cats age we should be continuing to look for lumps and bumps as well. So grooming on a regular basis is still something to keep doing, but as your cat moves into the elderly faze, you may have to bump up the grooming and take on more responsibility as your cat may not be able to do its regular grooming. Some grooming wipes on hand would be helpful and you may have to give an elderly cat a bath every so often. Just remember to make the water nice and warm.
One of the other things that you can do is give your cat supplements to help with joint health, arthritis, kidney support, any pain management and immune system support. Omega Alpha makes a great formula called Pet Vitality which is a great senior formula that addresses all of these things.
It is also recommended that as your cat advances into super senior, a pillow or soft mat underneath where they may sit on a window sill or cat tree is a good idea, as their balance is often not what it used to be and a tumble could easily happen. Also, nice heated blankets or heated mats or inserts for a bed can really make things so much more comfortable for an elderly cat.
Also, make sure that cat pans are easily accessible and check to see if your aging cat is still able to get in and out of the pan. If not, it’s time to look into something with a low edge. And if incontinence occurs, consider pet diapers. After Esme had her second stroke that took her walking mobility away, we found pee pads and diapers worked really well.
So, as our cat’s age we just have to adapt to their changing needs. They have been there for us giving us entertainment, love and cuddles, companionship and calming purrs. And they probably still will, they just need that extra care as they age and I for one am more than happy to provide it.
As for dogs becoming senior it depends on the size and breed. According to northernpikesvets.com, small dogs are considered senior at age 11. Medium sized dogs at age 10 and large breeds at age 8 and giant breeds at age 7. Just like us and just like cats, senior issues are, hearing loss, vision loss. Decreased energy and muscle tone. Arthritis and joint issues. Drier and less elastic skin. Reduced liver, kidney and heart function and reduced immune system. And unfortunately there is such a thing as canine dementia.
Older dogs can often still keep a pretty good appetite but because they are often less active, an older dog can gain a fair bit of weight and obesity can be a problem. First things first, is to try and get your dog onto senior food. This will help with less fat, protein and sodium. Senior food does often have glucosamine and chondroitin for joints but I would still supplement in addition. Adding some warm water to kibble is a good idea to entice eating if that is becoming an issue as well as adding some canned food, freeze dried protein, pumpkin or cooked vegetables. There are also many good flavour enhancing dusts or bone broths that could be tried. Bone broth is excellent for the immune system so win win on that one. Some dogs do not transition to senior food well because the taste can be slightly different, so trying some of these palate enticing tricks could work, and there are quite a few. If you are unsuccessful try a weight management food and if that doesn’t work, it will mean reducing the portions.
Now, I do like to add supplements to help with aging. Obviously a good glucosamine supplement is top but I would take it a bit further and make sure that the supplement is not just glucosamine, but also chondroitin, MSN, and Hyaluronic Acid. As I’ve mentioned, Omega Alpha makes a great senior formula called Pet Vitality that also includes some herbs that help with vitality like Reisha mushroom and Devil’s Claw for pain relief as well as milk thistle for the liver and a host of other really good ingredients. And Devil’s Claw can also stimulate appetite so this could be a great addition for a dog that isn’t eating as well as usual or a cat for that matter. And also, make sure that the glucosamine is the D form which is best for assimilation into the tissue. The chondroitin will draw fluid to the joints helping to provide cushion. So, all good things here that can really keep aging symptoms at bay or managed.
Okay, let’s look at some of the other things that happen to our dogs as they age. Sight and hearing can be diminished or even lost as a dog ages. We’ve all seen those older dogs that have that blue tinge to their eyes as cataracts become an issue. We also know that as some dogs lose their hearing they may not hear you come in or know you are right on top of them. In this case some dogs will act aggressively when they are startled or surprised because they didn’t hear or see you. So, some techniques to avoid this is to use a heavier step or light stomp when approaching your dog if he isn’t looking at you or is asleep. Just because the dog can’t hear you doesn’t mean he isn’t feeling vibration. Even knocking on a wall or table will work. This same technique can be used for a dog losing sight. If you are aware that your dog is losing hearing, you can begin training with hand signals. If your dog is really losing vision, make sure that you declutter and block off dangerous areas. It is also recommended to use different textures on the floors of different rooms or use specific smell techniques. This will help a dog with low to no vision, know what room he is in.
Another issue, as was mentioned with cats, is that a senior dog may be more anxious and not handle stress as well as before. This means being aware of the things that could stress your senior dog, like many visitors to the home, or dogs coming for a visit or walks that are too long or not enough mental stimulation. I have to say it is a very dicey decision to make when someone wants to bring in a puppy when they have a senior dog. Some seniors experience a new lease on life and enjoy frolicking with a new pup. But, some seniors are completely stressed and their ageing and time to end of life is accelerated. I think when you are in the very elderly time period, it is unfair to bring a puppy into the home. Your super senior dog deserves your full attention and care.
Another thing we can do to help make our senior dogs more comfortable is to have a nice cozy bed where they are supported and warm. Many aging dogs get cold easily as they cannot regulate their body temperatures as well as before. Sweaters for outside or a heating pad for the bed are all things that will be appreciated. And the opposite is true as well. Make sure your senior dog is not too hot sitting outside on those very warm days. He may just want to go inside where it is cooler and have a rest.
Just as mentioned with cats, older dogs may need help with grooming. A nice warm bath often can really help with those old bones and freshen things up. Plus, those grooming wipes are a must. Teeth again, can be a real issue. One thing I have encountered is that many pet parents will say that their older dog’s breath is so bad they can hardly stand them. Well, more than likely their teeth are quite bad and there is rotting food under plaque and this just does not make for a fun cuddle time. But, the concern and rightly so, that pet parents with older dogs have, is putting them under anesthetic at the vet. Cost is also a real issue. So, if there are some major dental issues going on or money is no object or your vet has assured you that they can monitor everything for a senior dog under anesthetic then by all means get those teeth dealt with. But, if the anesthetic is a real concern and money is as well, look into a company like Kissable K9 Care that will descale and get rid of the plaque above the gum line while the pet is fully awake. The cost is also very friendly and that horrible breath is almost always taken care of.
So, let’s look at Canine dementia or CCD, Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. According to tractive.com, this condition is similar to Alzheimer’s in humans and is related to aging. It can affect behaviour, memory, learning and comprehension. Symptoms to look for are, being disoriented, anxiety, no longer responding to commands or their name, aimless wandering, lack of grooming, staring blankly at walls or at nothing, or waking in the middle of the night. Because the cause is not exactly known, it is hard to determine exactly how to prevent it. But, we can keep their brain active with games, or learning something new or letting them experience a new social situation but not something too stressful. And be very aware of toxins that they can be exposed to. If you suspect your dog is demonstrating CCD, make a vet appointment to rule out other factors and to discuss options. In the meantime, just about everything I have mentioned already can help with CCD. Supplements, food changes, pet-proofing the home, activities and of course patience and love.
And the last thing to deal with is the issue of incontinence or urgency for dogs. I remember years ago, someone came in and saw that there were diapers for dogs. This person was incredulous and thought this was the most ridiculous thing they had ever seen. But, I said, well, if putting a diaper on an older dog for nighttime, means that dog can continue to be a part of the family and live its best life, I don’t think this is a ridiculous product at all. So, pee pads and diapers can make life a lot easier.
Well I hope these are some helpful tips to make managing a senior pet a little easier. I’ve had some old cats in my time that demand food, and meow like little old ladies, and get thinner, but that’s what happens, they were still my kittens. We are now in the early stages of Tundra getting a bit older. We don’t know how old he really is but he could be 9 or 10, so that puts him as a senior. He’s not showing any grey around the muzzle yet, so maybe he could be younger. But, he does like to sleep. So, I think with older pets some looking outside the box can be helpful, thinking of all the things we can do to make their life more comfortable. So, this leads me to my pet peeves section.
Well I think my biggest pet peeve is when I hear that someone has had their older dog or cat euthanized simply because they are getting old and need a bit more care. I’ve heard this from vets who are just heartbroken when they are asked to do this. I have no idea how anyone can be this callus. Of course if there is unmanageable pain or other health issue that has been discussed with the vet and this is the agreed upon procedure, that is something totally different. But, taking a long time loyal and loving companion to be euthanized simply because there were a few accidents overnight just absolutely makes me so angry. And I know many pet parents of senior and elderly pets that go to every lengths possible to make their cat or dog comfortable. And I will help them the best I can with any advice or tips that they can use. As for the other people that think that an older pet is trash, well you know what, you never deserved them in the first place and hopefully karma will come full circle. Just saying. In the meantime, there are lots of things we can do for our aging pets, so do a bit of research and ask a bunch of questions, because as I say, knowing is caring.
Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.
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