Senior Pet Care
Changes and Challenges
The first year and last year of a pet’s life are often the most challenging. And the most expensive.
We want to help you think about the senior pet care issues you might face. We don’t want to overwhelm or depress anyone. Being open and realistic might avoid surprises about the emotional, physical, and financial challenges.
The tricky issue with assessing signs of pain in animals is they hide it extremely well. Pain tolerance in our pets is 100 times greater than in humans.
Potential Signs of Pain:
- Licking or chewing an area
- Eating less
- Hiding more, being lethargic, or some noticeable change in behavior
- Crying when touched or not wanting to be touched
- Panting, pacing, whining (when there is no obvious reason)
- Increased heart rate (dogs: resting heart rate of over 130 bpm; cats: resting heart rate of over 200-220 bpm)
- For cats in particular, a lack of grooming or self-care
- Your gut instinct—we often get calls on “my pet just doesn’t seem life himself.” That means he probably isn’t. You should get him checked out. You know your pet. You know when something is not right.
Having trouble up and down stairs? Can’t jump on the couch or hop in the car? Slipping on the kitchen floor?
Understanding what is happening and why is the first step. Perhaps it is something as simple as being anemic and feeling weak. A change in diet or adding a supplement can be an easy remedy.
Is it arthritis? This can range from a little to a big issue. Work with your veterinarian on options and don’t be afraid to try different things. On the medical side, there are many supplements to help support joint health and increase mobility. Many of these are over-the-counter and are both economical and effective. Always check with your veterinarian first on anything you give your pet, OTC or prescription.
Your pet has good pain relief options. Many are safe for daily use. Talk with your veterinarian if you think pain relief is in order.
Simple Items, Big Impact
Make or purchase elevated food and water bowls.
Place non-skid rugs on hardwood or tile flooring. These offer more secure footing and less chance to slip.
Make or purchase ramps or small steps that allow your pet access to a couch or bed if they can no longer jump.
Make a simple sling to support their back end by using a bath towel placed under the abdomen to help you comfortably and easily support the hind end.
You can make a sling by taking a canvas grocery bag and slicing the sides open (cut the sides of the bag that do not have the handles on them). This creates a nice wide sling with handles so it is easier for you to help lift your pet’s rear legs on stairs.
Comfortable bedding. Think outside the box on this one. Traditional pet beds may be expensive and hard to launder (size wise). Check second hand stores for crib-sized blankets or comforters. Your pet probably doesn’t care and those are easier to launder. If you need extra padding, foam toppers for people beds can be cut to a smaller size. If you have a smaller dog, put the foam in a king sized pillowcase.
We are able to do a regenerative stem-cell transplant on dogs with bad hips or osteoarthritis. This doesn’t completely cure the issue, but it markedly improves the quality of life and mobility. The stem cells come from the dog’s own fat tissue in the abdomen so don’t be scared by the idea of stem cells. This procedure is expensive, and not all dogs would be good candidates, but it is one example in a range of options for senior pet care.
Senility and Loss of Senses
Having your pet lose their vision, hearing, or go senile is difficult. But, keep in mind many senior pets have lengthy, high quality lives even with losing one or more of their senses.
Some pets can experience anxiety when this begins. If so, work with your vet to find short-term solutions. Be patient as you all adapt to a “new normal”.
If senility is an issue, there are Choline supplements that may help lessen the effects of aging. If your pet is deaf, you can teach her hand signals for sit, stay, and come (yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks). If your pet is blind, assisting your pet inside and outside on a shorter leash works well. They learn to adapt to the sensory loss and most do quite well.
Leaking urine while sleeping, going frequently to the bathroom or in inappropriate areas warrants a call to the vet. Rule out any medical issues, like a bladder infection, and then discuss options.
For male dogs, you can use a 4” wide ace bandage with velcro on the end to wrap around the abdomen. Purchase newborn diapers (cut if too big) and use that to cover the penis. Then wrap the ace bandage around the dog. This wrap will need to be adjusted after a while, but it offers protection if you want your dog to be out in the house without leaking urine everywhere.
For female dogs, use men’s (or boy’s) underwear and put the dog’s tail through the fly. You can place a pad inside the underwear to help absorb any dribbling. For female dogs who may leak urine, effective medications are available to lessen this problem.
Allow time each day without the diaper (to let the skin breathe), change them often, and clean your dog daily.
Veterinary medicine has made great strides in treatment options and outcomes for pets with cancer. Dogs, for example, often fare quite well during treatment. Chemotherapy doesn’t seem to hit them as hard as it can humans. Know that pet cancer treatments can be expensive and may not always be effective, but we are seeing more owners choose this and often with good outcomes.
Senior Pet Care: Keep Your Sanity
One thing we’d like pet owners to realize is they have options. Take time to educate yourself and ask questions. Your vet should be willing to talk with you and answer your questions; many will do so over the phone.
You need to be honest with yourself about how much you are willing to take on financially. Do you have it in your budget to afford long-term treatments? Will your vet work with you on a payment plan for those last expensive months? Are there other medical procedures you could safely delay if your pet is struggling?
Don’t be embarrassed about talking with your vet or the staff about estimates for care. It doesn’t mean you are a bad pet owner or are being “cheap”.
You need to be honest about your time and own quality of life. Do you have the time each day to invest in senior pet care? Will you be able to find someone to provide respite care for you and take over to give you a break? Will the extra care stress the family overall?
Those are questions only you can ultimately answer, but we are happy to help be your sounding board.
Senior Pet Care Resources
- Senior Care from AVMA
- FAQs on Senior Pet Care from AVMA
- Senior Cat Care from AAFP
- Caring for your older cat