New Environments for Older Pets
How to create a comfy, safe space for senior pets.
Nothing tugs at our heartstrings like the graying muzzle of a four-legged friend. Those of us fortunate enough to have shared our homes with a senior pet know that, as rewarding as it is to spend those golden years with a beloved cat or dog, it's not without its challenges -- both for you and your pet.
Fortunately, thoughtful pet owners like you can take several steps to help senior pets grow old gracefully and comfortably. But first, you need to know what to expect! Here are a few common issues aging pets face, along with things you can do to make your home a haven for your furry pal.
Of course, if you notice any changes in your pet or have concerns, please consult your veterinarian. This is true regardless of age, but especially important as pets reach their senior years, which can range from the early- to mid-teen years for cats and small dogs to as young as 5 years old for giant breed dogs. For any of the issues mentioned below, checking with your vet is definitely the best first step -- you may be able to treat the condition with medication or it could be a sign of a larger problem.
If getting around just isn't as easy as it used to be for Fluffy, think about what you can change in your home to put her at ease. Make certain she has super soft, warm places to rest -- if she prefers to be near you, consider having beds in a few rooms of the house so she can keep an eye on her family without resting her old bones on a cold, tile floor. And, if she's always slept on the bed or on the couch, position pet stairs, a ramp, or even a short footrest so that she can easily climb up to her regular snoozing spot.
Now, if you live in a multi-level home and your darling dog or cat is having a hard time going up and down the stairs, encourage her to stay on the main level by creating a space she'll find irresistible with a soft bed and favorite toys. And be sure to spend plenty of time on the bottom floor with her -- if she fears she's missing out on the fun, she'll ignore the pain and plod up those stairs to be by your side! Wouldn't you do the same?
One caveat -- making it a little easier for your pet to do the things she loves is one thing, but be mindful not to remove exercise altogether. Weight gain and obesity not only put additional, unnecessary strain on joints, but also can lead to myriad other health problems. You can opt for lower-impact exercise -- for example, a nice, leisurely walk on the grass instead of a long run along the sidewalk -- but try to keep your pet as active as she's able to be!
Just like people, dogs and cats tend to lose their sight a bit as they age. In fact, dogs are more prone to cataracts than any other species, according to Pet Peeves, and that means that a dog living a long and healthy life is likely to experience some level of blindness at some point.
The first step is to make your home easy to navigate, and then keep it that way. Your pet will use his ears and nose to make up for some of the difference in his sight, but you'll make life far easier for him if you keep furniture in the same place and pick up items that could trip him up. You might also consider padding sharp edges he might run into. Basically, think along the lines of what might cause you trouble if you were on all fours, crawling along your floor in the middle of the night, and address those issues for your pet. Additionally, those living in a multi-story home might consider baby gates to keep vision-impaired pets from taking a tumble down a flight of stairs.
A deaf dog or cat can still make her way around just fine, so you shouldn't need to worry too much about making many changes to your home -- it just becomes a bit more difficult to communicate with her. When you notice your pet losing her hearing, work on training her to focus on you -- tasty treat rewards are a great way to positively enforce this behavior. From there, work on training her with hand signals rather than verbal cues.
Remember that since your pet can't hear you very well, it's very easy to startle her if she doesn't see you coming. Take big, heavy steps as you approach her from behind, or, if she's asleep, try holding your hand (perhaps with a treat in it) near her nose so she smells you before opening her eyes. And make sure guests, particularly children, know not to reach for or touch her until she's seen them in order to keep everyone happy and safe.
How have you made your home more comfortable for your senior pets? What tips do you have for owners of pets who are getting older? Share your thoughts below!
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