A senior Beagle laying with his head down on the blankets

7 rules for senior pets

Team Walmart Pets

June 8, 2021


min read

We, sadly, can usually tell as our pets get up there in age. Our pets, however, don’t realize they’re getting old.

The simple fact that old dogs and cats can’t tell time or read a calendar means they don’t know they should stop behaving as if they’re puppies or kittens because they’ve reached a “certain age.” Unlike their human counterparts, older pets don’t see age as an excuse to stop playing ball, chasing dust bunnies and being lively. 

Twenty years ago, a 12-year-old pet was considered over the hill. Nowadays, most pet parents don’t consider their 12-year-old pet to be old. In fact, more and more veterinarians are reporting dogs aged 19-to-20 years and cats older than 20. To be clear, these ages are becoming more common, but are no means the new normal. And if you’re getting a late start by adopting an older pet, don’t worry. You can teach old dogs new tricks. Cats, too!

7 tips for caring for senior dogs and cats

Follow these simple tips to help your senior best friend live to its fullest and longest potential. 

#1: Start regular testing around age seven 

As your senior dog or cat ages, physiological shifts often occur. Changes in kidney, liver and pancreatic function as well as arthritis, cataracts, heart disease and high blood pressure are more common in older dogs and cats. The key to successfully treating any disease is early recognition. 

To diagnose a disease in the early stages requires consistent examinations and lab tests. As soon as your dog or cat turns seven you should ask for basic blood and urine tests, even if your pet appears to be perfectly healthy. The value of routine testing is that it establishes baselines of health for future reference. The money you spend on routine diagnostics may save you big bucks in the future and, more importantly, add years to your pet’s life. 

#2: Switch to senior dog food and senior cat food

As dogs and cats age their nutrient requirements and ability to digest certain foods can change. If your dog or cat is over seven, talk to your vet about switching to a diet with food specially-formulated for older dogs and older cats. For cats, low- or no-grain, higher protein diets work well and for older dogs, highly digestible, low-fat diets are a smart choice. 

Talk to your veterinarian about giving nutritional supplements such as Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils), probiotics, or glucosamine/chondroitin sulfate to support senior dog and cat health. 

 #3: Keep your senior pet at a healthy weight

Maintaining a healthy weight in senior pets is important. Overweight pets are at a higher risk for arthritis, heart disease, skin conditions, cancer, and other serious illnesses and injuries. Also be on the lookout for sudden weight loss, especially in cats. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland), diabetes, kidney disease, and cancer are common reasons for this change. If you have concerns about your pet’s weight, talk to your veterinarian.   

#4: Watch for subtle signs of sickness

If you share your home with an older pet, never ignore that tiny voice telling you “something isn’t right.” If you suspect something — anything — is wrong with your senior pet, have it checked out.

#5: Keep your pet’s aging brain engaged

As pets age, their mental abilities and their behavior may change. To keep mental reflexes sharp, constantly provide your older pet with new experiences. Add a food puzzle, teach a new trick, take a trip to a different dog park or enroll in therapy pet classes. Rotate toys by packing old ones out of sight and offering a “new” one every two to three days. 

Even a simple change such as reversing your normal walking route can provide freshness to an otherwise stale routine. As often as possible, ask yourself, “How can I make this more fun or interesting?” 

Older pets tend to have a higher incidence of phobias and anxiety. If your pet suddenly becomes fearful of thunderstorms or loud noises, has accidents in the house, or begins to wake unexpectedly at night, see your vet. Nutritional supplements, behavior training and medications can help your older pet maintain normal abilities and combat age-related behavioral changes. 

#6: Exercise more

Daily walks or play can boost your pet’s mental and physical wellbeing. Talk to your veterinarian about an exercise routine for your senior. Be mindful of any physical limitations your pet may have and make adjustments based on their comfort and ability. 

For dogs, if they are able, consider a brisk 20-to-30-minute walk once or twice a day. For cats, interactive toys such as feather dancers, laser lights or remote-controlled toys can get even the laziest cat on its feet. 

#7. Consider adding another pet

A new pet breathes new life into older pets. Many times the older pet seems to regain lost vigor and lives much longer than ever dreamed possible whenever a new pet is introduced. Adding a new pet before losing one can also help soften the inevitable loss. 

Our pets don’t read calendars or celebrate birthday milestones. Pets celebrate every morning when we wake up to greet them, when we return home from a long day’s work and when we take time to play and snuggle. Let’s make the most of our time together with them

Pet Care

Photo by Patricia Zavala on Unsplash