From big, sleepy tabbies sunning in windows to gray-whiskered labs on leisurely walks, seniors are a fast-growing segment of America’s pet population. Veterinary and technological advances, along with pet owners’ strong commitments to their pets’ longevity, have made it possible for older pets to enjoy comfortable, happy lives. A few simple practices can help pet owners bring optimal health and wellbeing to their furry friends’ later years. In 2019, animal lover and pet advocate Leslie Fleuranges founded Topeka’s Tender Loving Care Pet Nursing Hotel to serve the needs of aging pets and their owners. While the facility also cares for young and healthy pets, its focus is on older animal companions and their devoted pet parents. Leslie’s compassionate mission grew from her own love of older pets and her years as a marketing and innovation executive at Hills Pet Nutrition. “When our pets get older, they are at risk for many of the same health problems and diseases as we are,” she says. “Since they can’t advocate for themselves, it’s important that we do all we can to help them get to and through this life stage in the healthiest way possible.” While senior pets don’t require the exhausting vigilance that’s needed with a new puppy or kitten, it’s still vitally important for senior pets’ owners to be attentive to the physical and behavioral changes that aging may bring.
The following guidelines can help to maintain and enhance a senior pet’s quality of life:
- Maintain close contact with your veterinarian. Regular vet checks are key to helping maintain optimal health as our pets age.
- Help your pet get regular exercise. If your pet is active now, continue their exercise regimen. If your pet is sedentary, ask your vet to help establish a plan to begin slowly and gradually increase daily activity. Remember that older pets are more vulnerable to hot and cold weather, so make adjustments when needed.
- Manage your pet’s weight. Excess weight strains your pet’s aging joints and is unhealthy for internal organs as well. During your vet visits, check to make sure the food and treats you’re providing for your pet are healthy choices.
- Pay attention to changes in your pet’s behavior and habits. If your pet is less sociable than usual, it may be a sign of issues with vision, hearing, or mobility. Incontinence, too, is a signal that there may be an underlying health issue.
- Choose senior-friendly boarding and grooming professionals. Older pets require a gentler touch and closer supervision to avoid injury or undue emotional trauma in these settings. Online reviews can guide you to find a trustworthy salon, daycare, or kennel.
- Senior-proof your pet’s home. Even though senior dogs have more limited mobility, they often seem to think of themselves as puppies. Provide pet stairs or ramps and discourage senior pets’ jumping to and from the car, bed, or couch. Block off staircases that may be treacherous for an aging pet’s mobility. Carefully supervise children around older pets to avoid unfortunate conflict or injury.
Each senior pet has unique issues and needs. Your veterinarian can provide specific recommendations based on the pet’s individual history and health issues. The website of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is another source of information on senior pet health and care. By being knowledgeable, attentive, and compassionate, people who share their lives with senior pets can make a positive difference during this tender and endearing time, nurturing and safeguarding their pets’ health and quality of life.