This time of year, as November slowly but surely nears December, it’s customary to take stock of what you have and appreciate what it is you’re thankful for. And while material possessions often make the cut, most thank-you lists include things that can’t be measured in dollars, like the health, love, and support of family, new or old friendships, or a modicum of personal or professional success. However, if you’re anything like me, the unconditional love and companionship of a beloved pet is close to the top of the list.
There’s nothing that compares to the adorability of a new puppy or kitten. Their energy, enthusiasm, and excitement is contagious, and watching them learn and mature as they grow from infant to adolescent to adult is as wonderful as it is rewarding. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also recognize the soft spot I have in my heart for senior pets. My first cat lived to be 23, and while her last few years brought a fair share of challenges, I gained a deep appreciation for the time I had with her, as we spent much more time together than we ever did when she was a kitten.
In many ways, it’s fitting that November is host to both Thanksgiving and Senior-Pet Month. Caring for a senior pet is a difficult task that should not be taken lightly, but as pet parents, it’s our duty to do everything we can to make our four-legged friends’ twilight years as happy and comfortable as possible. If nothing else, caring for our elderly pets with the compassion and care they deserve serves as a way to thank them for the years of love and companionship, and it’s the least we can do.
A Proactive Approach to Elder Pet Care is Vital
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, cats and small dogs reach old age around the time they turn 7. Large breeds tend to not live quite as long as smaller breeds, and are typically considered geriatric at age 6. Therefore, when pets reach this advanced age, a little extra care goes a long way. For starters, as with humans, trips to the doctor should happen more frequently—as an essential aspect of senior-pet care, it’s recommended that elderly dogs and cats visit the vet twice a year. Additionally, their diet becomes more important—when pets reach advanced age, it may be time to consider a diet centered around senior-dog or -cat food, to ensure that (your) pets are getting all the nutrients their changing bodies require. However, while there are many parallels that can be drawn between senior-dog care and senior-cat care, caring for aging dogs and cats can be very different, too.
Caring for Senior Dogs
As dogs age, providing them with the care they so desperately need becomes more of a challenge. In an interview with NPR, veterinary behaviorist Nicholas Dodman likens elderly dogs to elderly people, remarking that as dogs age, proper diet and exercise become increasingly important. Senior dogs are also more susceptible to devastating diseases like cancer and cognitive dysfunction—the canine equivalent of Alzheimer’s. However, out of all the dangers facing aging dogs, one of the most serious may be temperature. "They're less able to thermoregulate. So we have to take account of that by making sure they have some kind of blanketlike coat or contraption on to keep them warm and not keep them out so long in cold weather,” Dodman explains. “The same goes for heat. You really don't want to leave them out in the yard, especially tied up on an extremely hot day. They can dehydrate. They're less able to cope with the change in temperature, and it's a recipe for disaster."
One easy solution to this problem would be to stock up on products designed to help your aging dog regulate his or her body temperature. Originally developed by NASA for the US space program in the 1960s, ThermaPet™ technology features a metallized polyethylene terephthalate (MPET) insulation that helps warm pets using their own body heat through passive reflective heat transfer. Additionally, not only does ThermaPet technology help keep pets warm and stave off the negative effects of extreme cold, but it also offers warming relief to pets suffering from joint discomfort. And with ThermaPet products that include classic beds, nesting beds, mats, blankets, and apparel, they offer a warming solution that’s perfect for any dog, young or old.
In addition to ThermaPet products, for owners of geriatric dogs interested in taking extra precautions in the cold-weather months, a coat may be a good place to start. While many dogs have a thick coat that provides some degree of insulation in the extreme cold, there’s still something to be said for the additional protection from the elements that only a coat can provide. Additionally, if you’re a pet parent who’s particularly concerned about the effect inclement weather may have on your aging dog, paw-protection wax and boots add an extra layer of protection from snow, ice, salt, and sand, as well as a deterrent against licking paws, keeping road-treatment chemicals out of sensitive gastrointestinal tracts.
On the other end of the spectrum is the extreme heat of July and August. Every year, there are many well-publicized and heartbreaking stories of dogs suffering injury or even death after being left in a hot car on a brutally warm summer day. With the extreme heat and harmful UV rays from the sun beating down on an enclosed vehicle, the temperature inside that car can be significantly higher than the temperature outside, and it can spell disaster for unsupervised canine inhabitants in a matter of minutes—that’s why it’s important to never leave ANY dog, particularly an elderly dog with a diminished ability to regulate his or her body temperature, inside a hot car. For aging dogs, however, concerns over heat extend far beyond the cabin of a car or truck.
As is the case with cold weather, pet parents must take precautions to protect their pets outside during extreme heat, too. Cool Pup™ offers a wide array of products to keep pets cool and hydrated in the summer heat. Customer favorites like Portable Bowls are perfect for offering pets cool, clean water at home or on the go. But if you’re a pet parent who typically leaves your dog(s) outside during the day, the groundbreaking Faucet Waterer might be the product for you. Faucet Waterers securely attach to any outdoor faucet or spigot—the unique design dispenses water when your dog licks the lever, and water stops flowing when they stop licking!
However, as popular as Cool Pup’s hydration solutions may be, the most popular Cool Pup product is arguably the Reflective Cooling Harness. With innovative cooling inserts and reflective strips for added visibility, these functional and versatile harnesses are must-have items on summertime walks. Additionally, as the pavement heats up, paw-protection wax and boots can protect paws in the summer much like they can from the cold and ice in the winter.
Extreme temperatures are not the only challenges facing elderly pets. Much like humans, as pets age, their joint function deteriorates, often resulting in arthritis and hip dysplasia—a common condition among dogs. While joint pain and discomfort are often degenerative and may not always be curable, there are many steps pet parents can take to improve their elderly dog’s quality of life. For instance, a dog suffering from hip and joint issues may benefit from taking supplements. From those containing glucosamine and chondroitin to alleviate hip and joint pain, to those rich in omega-3 and omega-6 to decrease inflammation and boost immune health, there are many vet-developed and -approved supplements on the market today.
If you’re reluctant to introduce supplements to your senior-dog-care regimen, there are other options available to you. As cushiony and comfortable as most dog beds are today, a standard polyfill bed may not have the level of support that an arthritic dog may need—that’s why an orthopedic bed might be the best choice for your dog. With a design that’s similar to the memory-foam beds on which you and I may sleep, canine orthopedic beds utilize memory-foam technology or medical-grade egg-crate foam to create a comfortable and supportive sleeping surface for aging dogs of all sizes.
As a dogs’ joint function deteriorates, so does their ability to climb onto beds or couches, or into cars or SUVs, and for these dogs, RampSteps are a necessity. Whether at home or on the go, RampSteps make it possible for aging dogs to access the hard-to-reach elevated areas that they would’ve easily jumped onto in their younger days. Additionally, for those pets requiring the most support, Lift & Go Leads offer just that. With comfortable, supportive neoprene construction, front and hind support, and built-in handles for lifting, these innovative leads are the ideal travel and walk-time essential for aging and ailing pets alike.
Caring for Senior Cats
Typically, cats have longer lifespans than their canine counterparts, and they’re often considered to be more self-sufficient than dogs, but that doesn’t make senior-cat care an easy task. The differences between kittens and senior cats are extreme—for starters, kittens have seemingly bottomless energy reserves. They’re constantly on the move, running and darting from room to room, stalking and pouncing on toys, bugs, and other pets, and getting bolder and more curious with each passing day. As cats age, however, many trade in the laser pointer for a comfy spot on the couch. When cats are younger and more active, they’re more likely to care for their nails by scratching at a scratching post (or worse, the furniture). However, as they age, the relative inactivity of elderly cats can sometimes lead to faster nail growth, boosting the importance of regular nail care—that’s why having a pair of top-notch nail clippers on hand is of the utmost importance.
According to PetMD, periodontal disease is “one of the most common diseases affecting cats today,” and while it affects cats from all walks of life, it is especially important to take steps to prevent and combat this disease on senior cats. Regular brushing is key—whether at the dentist or at home—as brushing is key to preventing periodontal disease. Dual-end toothbrushes and finger brushes are available for at-home use, and toothpaste is also available for an added protection. However, if your cat resists having his or her teeth brushed, sprays, finger wipes, and regular wipes all offer an effective alternative to brushing.
Heat loss is another issue with aging felines. For example, have you ever noticed how a majority of cats will fold their legs underneath themselves as they sit? It might look odd, but this minimizes the heat they allow to escape, effectively keeping them warm. Much like with dogs, as cats age, it is important to monitor and help them regulate their temperature, and for an animal that values heat as much as a cat, a thermal mat like the Meow Town™ ThermaPet Cat Mat might be the perfect solution. As with the selection of ThermaPet products available for dogs, these mats warm cats using the animal’s own body heat, not electricity. This innovative design offers maximum warmth and comfort while eliminating the threat of electric shock that is present with many heated mats.
As with their human caretakers, the needs of dogs and cats change and evolve as pets age, and it’s important to remember that caring for your four-legged friends as they near the end of their lives is a delicate balancing act—one that requires a great deal of love, patience, and compassion. While the thought of living without the creature that has been by your side for years can be difficult to bear, it’s important to make sure they’re still enjoying a relatively good quality of life. Some would argue that the most important aspect of senior-pet care is not the detection and treatment of diseases (although that is still quite important), but rather keeping your elderly pet as comfortable as possible. Sometimes love is the best medicine, so when in doubt, spend as much time as possible with your senior pet and shower him or her with love, just as s/he has done to you throughout his or her long life.