Families want their pets to maintain a happy, healthy quality of life through their senior years. Below is listed some simple daily changes that owners can do at home to ensure this is the case.
1) ExerciseIt is important to keep up with your pet’s exercise routine, allow them to set the pace, and take time for walks. If you have concerns that they will not set limits for themselves, circle the block to decrease how far away from home you are if they do tire and need assistance. If they are unable to walk due to mobility decline, illness or have never been before, such is the case for many cats, taking a stroller ride or wagon ride can greatly improve their wellbeing by allowing a change in scenery and introduction to other smells.
2) Mental stimulation When pets are unable to walk or exercise, have lost their ability to play with toys, or have lost vision or eyesight, it is important to promote mental stimulation via alternative routes. Cats enjoy food/treat puzzles, snuffle mats, scratch pads and play with toy strings/lights close to beds where they do not have to move around and can simply bat at the object. Dogs enjoy food/treat puzzles, rolling ball games, gentle tug a war games from their beds, licky mats with frozen treats, and/or swimming/floating (via floatation devices) in a pool which is easy on the joints.
3) Household modificationsAs pets age, mobility becomes a big limiting factor in quality of life. A decline in mobility can be due to arthritis, pain, loss of muscle or weakness. Family’s can make some simple household modifications to improve a pets quality of life with movement around the house. In high traffic areas that have a slippery surface, owners can simply add a rug or yoga mat allowing more traction. Another difficult spot for traction is slick stairs. Try adding removal carpet squares you can purchase from home improvement stores. They will give your pet extra confidence and traction when going up and down. Elevating bowls from the floor can help a dog to not have to lean so far forward and put excess pressure on their front legs when eating, and lowering bowls from counters for cats to reduce the amount of jumping are modifications that can help with osteoarthritis pain and weakness. Check for any areas of the house that have a small step up or lip that may be difficult for an older pet to navigate and add on a small ramp to alleviate the need for a jump. If cats are having difficulty getting in and out of the litter box, buying lower boxes which require less jumping or substituting long, under the bed tupperware containers as litter boxes can help.
4) Hygiene As pets age, many cannot keep up with their hygiene. Cats will stop grooming themselves due to pain or as progression of a disease process. Owners can use a warm washcloth to wash a cat’s face mimicking normal grooming behavior. Some even like having the warm washcloth rubbed down their back. Instead of using a brush, owners can use latex gloves to remove the undercoat of fur which can be less painful for many pets with arthritis. For bathing, there are gloves with multiple small nubs on them that allow brushing while bathing, removing one of the grooming steps to help with comfort. Waterless shampoo can also be used for a quick clean up that requires less time.
5) Hands on at homeLastly, at home it is important for pet owners to routinely rub and palpate their pets for any sore areas (especially around joints) or any new lumps and bumps. Some of these things when caught early can have a treatment plan, helping improve pain at the beginning stages, or have surgery to remove small masses before they grow too large to be able to treat appropriately. If you notice any problems, please seek veterinary care.
Julia Spade, DVM, cVMA, CHPV | Senior Paws | seniorpaws.vet