Time tends to slip away too quickly when it comes to old friends -- especially when they are beloved pets. One day you're bringing home that special puppy or kitten, and before you know it, your pet has aged into a senior citizen.
Our pets grow old quickly; 10-14 years is an average life span for most dogs and cats. But luckily for us, pets can pack a lot of life, love, and companionship into that short time. If you have an older pet, here are some guidelines to help you make the most of its golden years.
Most experts agree that a pet's mental attitude, behavior, and general physical condition are better gauges of age than years are. But it's reasonable to consider 8- to 10-year-old dogs and 10- to 12-year old cats as old pets.
Fortunately, most dogs and cats age well. Your pet might simply slow down and start sleeping more. But if your pet begins showing signs of age suddenly, consult a veterinarian. Chances are the problem isn't age alone.
As long as your old dog or cat stays in reasonably good shape, it will probably need only minimal special care. But remember that even if they're healthy, older pets don't have much reserve to call on in times of stress.
- Get regular vet care. Your best guide is simply to provide good routine care and allow a hardy old pet to take life at its own pace. Regular veterinarian checkups (at least once a year) are essential to good health. Supplement those checkups with a monthly once-over at home.
- Provide the right food and exercise. Balanced nutrition and regular exercise are keys to keeping your older pet in good shape. There are commercial foods on the market designed especially for older pets, but your veterinarian is the best person to advise you about an old pet's changing diet needs. If a health problem develops, for instance, certain foods might have to be curtailed. Some old dogs and cats might need an occasional vitamin and/or mineral supplement, but your veterinarian should always prescribe them.
- Slim down. Gaining weight is a frequent problem as pets become less active -- particularly older dogs. Weigh your pet every month. If it starts gaining, cut back on its rations. Whatever changes are called for, be sure to make them gradually.
- Provide fresh water. Make sure water is always available to an older pet, even though it might drink less as it grows older. However, large variations in drinking patterns might mean trouble (kidney disease and diabetes are two possibilities). From time to time, record how much water your pet drinks. Report suspicious changes in amount to your veterinarian.
- Groom often. Good grooming perks up an old pet's appearance and makes it more comfortable. Since old pets tend to have dry skin, baths should be limited. (Cats rarely need to be bathed at all.) Substitute more frequent brushing. When a bath is called for, choose a warm spot out of drafts and dry your pet afterward. Old dogs and cats need to have their nails trimmed regularly, and always keep your pets on preventative medications to protect them from heartworms, ticks, and fleas.
- The final kindness. If your old pet is in pain and there's no hope for recovery, a family conference with a veterinarian familiar with your pet is in order. When the consensus is that your pet would be served by putting it out of its pain, lay your own feelings aside and ask your veterinarian to provide this kindness.