7 top tips for caring for senior pets

Danielle Petch
A woman crouching down, affectionately holding the head of a senior black Labrador dog

From their ability to always make us laugh to their endless love, loyalty, care and affection. It’s true: pets give so much to us throughout their lives. So, as your pet reaches its senior years, it only seems right that we think of the ways we can give back to them, right? 

Caring for a senior pet is an important step in every pet owner's journey, and as our pets grow and change with age, so do their needs. So, this Pet Wellness Month, we wanted to share some of the ways you can help your senior pet stay happy and healthy — and how to help make their twilight years their best yet. 

At what age does a become become 'senior'?

Of course, the first step in knowing how to care for a senior pet is knowing exactly when your pet becomes a senior.

Typically, cats are considered senior when they reach 11 years of age. For dogs, it tends to vary by their size — according to the American Kennel Club, small dog breeds (such as Chihuahuas) are considered senior by the time they reach 7-10 years old, while larger breeds (such as Great Danes) are considered senior by about the age of 6. This is because larger dogs typically have a shorter life span, and so age quicker than their small breed counterparts.

How to care for a senior pet

1. Feed them the right diet

As your pet grows older, their nutritional needs change, so you’ll need to make sure you’re feeding them the right, age-appropriate food.

Most brands of pet food will cater for pets at every stage of their life, from puppy or kittenhood straight through to their golden years. As well as making sure your pet is getting all the right nutrients, senior pet foods are often lower in calories and fat, which is particularly important as a pet ages and their activity levels decline. 

Older pets can sometimes develop certain health-related conditions, which may also affect the type of foods they should and should not be consuming. If your pet has a specific condition, speak to your vet about the right food for your pet.

An elderly white tabby cat laying across on a wooden table

2. Give them regular, gentle exercise

It’s inevitable that as your pet gets older, their activity levels will decline. After all, you can keep up that puppy energy forever! 

Older pets can suffer from stiff joints, particularly in the mornings, and arthritis is common among senior animals. Regular, gentle exercise and lots of encouragement are key here, but remember to always go at your pet’s pace and to never push past your pet’s comfort levels, as this can overexert them and leave them feeling sore. 

Some senior pets may also benefit from additional physiotherapy or hydrotherapy sessions. If you’re concerned about your pet’s joints or mobility, speak to your vet to see if this (or any other treatment) could be beneficial to your pet. 

3. Provide some mental stimulation

The saying goes that a healthy mind equals a healthy body, and the same is true for your pet! As pets grow older, keeping their mind sharp and engaged is key to their overall wellbeing. And the good news is, there are lots of fun ways to do this!

Most pets are food-motivated, so games of hide-and-seek using treats, food stuffers (like a KONG Senior) and food puzzle games are just a few great ways you can help keep your pet mentally stimulated. As well as keeping your pet’s mind razor-sharp, it’ll be fun for both you and your pet as they navigate these snout-scratching activities!  

Remember, as pets get older, their cognitive function can decline. If you notice your pet suddenly seems disinterested, despondent or confused, consult your veterinary practice as soon as possible for help and advice. 

4. Give them lots of extra time, love and care

Ageing is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn’t mean seeing your beloved pet grow old is an easy process. Spending quality time and making the most of your furry best friend is now more important than ever. 

So, spend time doing what you both love doing best! Whether that’s exploring a new park together, cuddling up on the sofa or playing a game in the garden. As well as creating precious memories for you, it’ll give your pet the one thing they want most: being close and spending quality time with their favourite human (psst, that’s you!).

A Golden Retriever being given a bath in the bath tub

5. Schedule in some extra grooming

As your pet gets older, they may have difficulty or be less inclined to groom themselves as much as they did in their younger years. You may also notice that their fur is becoming less shiny, or they may be suffering from flaky skin. 

Scheduling in regular grooming sessions at home, including regular brushing, will help with this. You may also need to bathe your pet more regularly, particularly if they have any bathroom-related accidents or suffer from incontinence. 

Regular trips to the groomers will also help keep your pet’s claws trimmed and in tip-top condition, and their coats healthy and shiny. 

6. Senior pet-proof your home

From stiff joints that make it difficult to jump or climb stairs, to poor eyesight and hearing. There are many things that can affect how your senior pet navigates its home. 

If your pet loves sleeping on the furniture, why not invest in a ramp to help them get to their favourite cosy spots? You can also set up soft and comfortable bedding for your pet to enjoy downstairs if climbing the stairs is becoming difficult. Or, place their food and water bowls in a raised pet bowl holder, to make eating and drinking a little easier. 

Ultimately, try to design your home space with your pet's safety and comfort in mind. 

7. Double up your vet visits

All pets will benefit from a yearly check-up at the vets, but this is particularly important for senior pets who are more prone to illness and ailments, as well as being at an increased risk for dental problems. 

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends that senior animals see a vet once every six months. This will give your vet the chance to spot and treat any potential health issues sooner rather than later.

Remember, if you suspect your pet or a pet under your care is unwell or deteriorating in health, consult a vet immediately. This includes looking out for any changes in your pet, such as changes in their eating or drinking habits, mobility, toilet training and/or the passing of urine or faeces, or if you notice a change in their usual disposition or behaviour.

Got your own senior pet tips to share? Head over to our Community Forum and post your thoughts and share advice with our like-minded community.

If you're heading off on vacation soon, why not keep your pet happy at home with an in-home pet sitter? In-home pet sitters are a great choice for senior pets while their owners are away, as it keeps them in their usual routines and in the one place they feel truly relaxed — their own home!

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