Editor's note: This is the third in a trio of columns about issues faced by aging pets. about senility in pets. about kidney issues.
Our older pets might move a little more slowly, but they can still enjoy life with a little help from their friends—you and your veterinarian. Here are some easy ways to improve your dog or cat’s environment and lifestyle as they age.
Pay attention to the temperature indoors and out. That’s especially important during times of hot weather like we’ve been having in Lake Forest lately. Older animals are more sensitive to temperature extremes and do best in an air-conditioned environment, especially if they have heart or respiratory problems. Schedule walks for morning or evening, when it’s not so hot outside.
Outdoors, be sure your pet has access to plenty of shade and cool water. Monitor the way the sun moves in your yard to ensure that there’s always a shady spot where your pet can rest if he chooses to go outside.
A bed with cooling or heating features is good for indoors. A heated bed is great for soothing achy joints. If a temperature-controlled bed is beyond your budget, you can purchase discs, wraps or pads that can be heated in the microwave and placed in your pet’s regular sleeping area. For cooling, moisten a bandana and place it in the freezer; then wrap it around your pet’s neck.
Provide a sturdy ramp or set of steps to help your pet regain its spot on the bed or sofa or climb more easily into the car. Dogs with weak rear ends may need assistance walking or climbing stairs. If they’re not small enough to be carried, support them by placing a towel beneath the belly (behind the rib cage) and then pull upward. Clever pet product manufacturers have also produced harnesses with handles that perform the same function. Look for them at pet supply stores or online.
If you have slippery wood or tile floors, lay down area rugs or carpet runners on the main walkways to help prevent falls.
Keep your pets at a normal weight to avoid putting stress on their joints. Both dogs and cats can develop arthritis, and excess weight can worse the pain and swelling in the joints. Besides helping your pet shed a few unwanted pounds, you can also ask your veterinarian about medications, neutraceuticals, or treatments such as acupuncture or massage that can lessen pain. (Never give your dog or cat aspirin, Tylenol, ibuprofen, acetaminophen or other NSAIDs made for humans. Even a small amount is deadly.)
Your older pet may need to urinate more often. Give older dogs more opportunities to go out and potty during the day, or install a pet door for easy access to the yard when you’re not home. For cats, check the litter box more frequently to see if it needs to be scooped.
Older females that have been spayed sometimes drip urine. If you start to notice small damp spots on her bedding or the carpet, ask your veterinarian to prescribe a medication that can help.
Is your older pet losing its appetite? Warming the food can increase its scent, enticing your pet to eat. If you warm it in the microwave, be sure to stir it around before serving it so there are no hot spots.
Pets with vision loss don’t watch TV or read, so eyesight isn’t all that important to them. They can still get around just fine thanks to their super-sensitive noses. Just try to avoid moving the furniture around so they don’t bang into it.
Keep your pet active and interested in life. Walks may need to be shorter, but they are still important. A ride in a wagon or pet stroller is another great way to get your dog out and about so it can do some sniffing and sight-seeing. And even an old cat will still enjoy batting at a feather toy or rolling in the throes of a catnip high.
Keep up the loving and snuggling. That will make your pet happiest of all.
Just because your pet is old or has health problems doesn’t mean it can’t have good quality of life. A little TLC from you can go a long way toward making his golden years great.
Pet of the Week
This week’s featured pet (pictured with this story) at Orange County Animal Care is Mango, a 1-year-old male Chihuahua mix. According to shelter staff, Mango is a handsome boy who enjoys his playtime. He loves to go for walks or play with his rope toy. His cute personality is infectious and his big brown eyes will have you hooked. Mango is available for adoption at the shelter under ID# A1195263.