Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
November is Adopt a Senior Pet Month, so what better time to share all the reasons adopting and caring for a senior pet is so great?
And, because we love our senior pets so much, we’re taking the opportunity to also share expert advice on everything there is to know.
Keep reading to learn what needs to go into a senior pet care plan, nutrition for older dogs and cats, as well in-home palliative care for pets.
Adopt a Senior Pet Month
When considering a new pet, playful puppies and kittens often take centre stage.
For those animals waiting for news homes in a shelter, that leaves one large demographic of pets often overlooked: the seniors.
It’s a sad fact that senior pets face a much harder time in shelters, and often spend much longer waiting for their new forever family.
Adopt a Senior Pet Month is a great way to remind people of the many, many benefits that adopting a senior pet brings to our lives.
The many benefits of adopting a senior pet
Adopting an older pet has many benefits, both for the animal and the adopter, making it a deeply rewarding experience.
One of the most significant advantages is the level of predictability that comes with an older pet.
Unlike puppies or kittens, whose personalities, sizes, and energy levels can be somewhat uncertain, senior pets have well-established temperaments.
This makes it easier for potential adopters to find a pet whose personality aligns with their lifestyle and preferences.
For instance, a senior pet is often more relaxed and less demanding in terms of exercise and playtime.
This makes them ideal companions for individuals or families seeking a calmer pet.
Another benefit is that senior pets are typically already trained to understand basic commands, which can significantly reduce the time and effort required for training.
They are often house-trained as well, sparing new owners the challenges of potty training.
Additionally, older pets are usually less destructive than their younger counterparts.
The teething phase is long gone, and they are less likely to chew on furniture or shoes, offering a peace of mind to their adopters.
Perhaps the most important reason not to look past the older dog or cat at the shelter is the second chance you are giving them.
Older pets are frequently overlooked in shelters, and by choosing to adopt one, individuals can make a significant difference in the life of an animal in need.
They appreciate the comfort and stability of a home environment and often show their gratitude through affection and loyalty.
Older pets can be the perfect companions for elderly individuals or those with a more sedentary lifestyle, as they require less physical activity and are content with shorter walks and more time spent indoors.
Problems older pets face in shelters
Increase in health problems: Senior pets are more likely to have health issues, including chronic conditions and age-related diseases. This can make their care more complex and expensive, which can be a deterrent for potential adopters.
Lower adoption rates: Older pets are often overlooked in shelters in favor of younger animals. Many people prefer adopting puppies and kittens, leaving senior pets with a much lower chance of finding a new home.
Psychological stress: Being in a shelter environment can be particularly stressful for older animals. They may have been with a family for years before ending up in a shelter, making the adjustment to shelter life difficult.
Special care needs: Older pets may require special diets, more frequent veterinary care, and accommodations for mobility issues. This can be a challenge for shelters with limited resources and can also deter potential adopters who are concerned about the time and cost involved in caring for a senior pet.
Benefits of caring for senior pets
Dogs bring us immeasurable joy, unwavering loyalty, and countless cherished memories throughout their lives.
But as they age, it’s our responsibility as owners to ensure we have a proper senior pet care plan in place.
Caring for older dogs requires owners to make changes to their diet, lifestyle, and medical needs.
Adapting as they age is essential to ensure pets remain comfortable, healthy, and happy during their golden years.
Expert tips for your senior pet care plan
Sydney vet Dr Kathy Mepstead works at Rest Your Paws, a leading in-home palliative care and euthanasia service for elderly and terminally-ill pets.
It’s fair to say Dr Kathy has a lot of experience when it comes to caring for senior pets.
She also knows what needs to be included in any senior pet care plan.
Dr Kathy gives readers her expert advice to help navigate this special, and sometimes challenging, chapter in their pets’ life.
Regular vet check-ups
Regular vet check-ups are crucial when caring for senior pets.
Dr Kathy recommends that senior pets visit the vet regularly to monitor for any changes or potential health issues.
“Owners should definitely take their pet at least once a year, but even more regularly if possible is a good idea,” says Dr Kathy.
And, Kathy adds, regular blood tests and physical exams are a crucial part of any senior pet care plan.
“Older pets can develop chronic diseases – such as kidney disease, diabetes, and arthritis,” Dr Kathy says.
“Early detection is always ideal, and blood tests can help pick up things not seen on the outside.
“Most blood results are available within a day, and some within an hour.
“Detecting and treating a condition can help manage it properly and improve your pet’s quality of life.”
Consider in-home palliative care for pets
Dr Kathy says owners should consider a vet that provides home visits.
Not only is it great for treating older pets in general, but it makes palliative care a lot easier when that time comes.
“Home vet visits are so much less stressful for everyone,” says Dr Kathy.
“It’s more comfortable, but it also allows vets to watch the pet’s behaviour while in their natural environment.
“And it also decreases the chance that their behaviour is masked by the anxiety that they may experience at a vet clinic.”
How much exercise do older dogs need?
Exercise is important for pets of all ages, but it’s important to adjust exercise routines for older animals.
“Keeping your senior pet active helps prevent muscle wastage as well as their overall health,” says Dr Kathy.
Dr Kathy recommends age-appropriate exercise, such as short walks, gentle playtime, and low-impact activities.
“Exercise helps keep senior pets mobile and can improve their mood and cognitive function,” says Dr Kathy.
“Gentle walks and play are great for older dogs (and their owners); it helps them physically, mentally, and socially.
Dr Kathy stresses the importance of avoiding high-impact activities that can cause injury or strain on joints.
“If your dog can’t walk as far as before, even just getting out for a sniff can be fun and stimulating.
“Avoid activities that involve twisting and turning as this could lead to torn ligaments because their body isn’t as strong as before.”
If owners notice their dogs slowing up or straining when walking, Dr Kathy says it’s important to get them seen by a vet.
“If they are reluctant to exercise, a check-up is a good idea as this could mean joint, heart or respiratory problems, or an underlying disease.”
Senior pet care plan: nutrition for older dogs and cats
Nutrition for older dogs and cats can be much different than younger pets.
And while diet is important for all pets, it’s especially important for seniors.
Dr Kathy recommends a high protein, low carbohydrate diet to help maintain muscle mass and prevent weight gain.
“A senior pet care plan can include diet to manage chronic diseases like kidney disease or diabetes.
“There are many great senior pet foods available that have been designed for changes that are expected with age.”
Some health conditions, such as kidney or gastrointestinal disease – can be helped, or even treated, with prescription diets.
“There are also some great supplements available that have been made with veterinary advice that can help keep a balanced diet.
Dr Kathy says it’s a good idea to speak with the vet and get a specific nutrition plan for senior dogs and cats.
“Senior pets often require less food as they are not as active, so watch their intake to avoid weight gain.
“Though if they have weight loss that is not intentional, then be sure to check in with your vet.”
“Consult with your veterinarian to determine the best diet for your pet’s individual needs.”
Creating a comfortable living space
As pets age, their mobility may decrease, and they may have difficulty navigating stairs or jumping on furniture.
Dr Kathy recommends making adjustments to your pet’s living environment to ensure they are comfortable and safe.
“Some pets struggle with slippery floors, so placing rugs or rubber mats down is a good idea,” says Dr Kathy.
“Even a yoga mat can be extremely helpful!”
Providing a comfortable low bed, non-slip surfaces, and accessible food and water bowls, are essential for senior pet care.
“They might need assistance getting up onto beds or into the car, so small steps or ramps are great.
“If you’re worried about your dog falling on stairs, a baby gate is a good way to limit access.”
Regular trips outside, or wee mats inside the house, are sometimes needed for senior dogs with increased urination needs.
Focus on quality time and attention
Finally, Dr Kathy stresses the importance in senior pet care of quality time and attention.
“The most beautiful thing about owning a pet is how much they long for our attention,” says Dr Kathy.
“Senior pets thrive on love from their owners; just a cuddle or a pat is all they want.
Owners are urged to take the time to cuddle and bond with their senior pet.
“Getting out an about is lovely too,” says Dr Kathy.
“Even if they can’t walk the beach or play in the park, they may enjoy just sitting.”
As older pets often require additional grooming, brushing their coats can also be a great bonding experience.
“Older pets struggle grooming themselves, so regular brushing can be a great way to help as well as bond.
“Of course, gentle massage and stroking can also be a beautiful way to spend time connecting with your senior pet.”
FAQ’s on caring for senior pets
The age at which a pet is considered senior can vary, typically depending on size and breed. Cats and small dogs are generally ‘senior’ at around seven, while larger dog breeds may reach senior status earlier. Your vet can provide more specific guidance based on your pet’s health and breed.
Senior pets often face age-related conditions such as arthritis, dental disease, kidney disease, heart disease, and decreased cognitive function. Regular vet visits and close observation at home can help in early detection and management of these issues.
Consider providing orthopedic bedding, non-slip mats, and ramps or stairs to help them navigate furniture or steps. Keep their living area warm and ensure they have easy access to food, water, and a comfortable resting place.
Absolutely. Senior pets can be great for first-time pet owners as they often require less training and are typically more mellow. However, it’s important to prepare for potential healthcare needs and the commitment.
Tailor exercise to your pet’s ability and comfort level. Short, gentle walks and light play sessions are good. Watch for signs of fatigue or discomfort, and always provide plenty of rest and hydration.