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Caring for Senior Pets

As cats and dogs age, their needs change and it's important to know how to provide them with the care they need. Stella & Chewy's shares how!

As cats and dogs age, their needs change and it’s important to know how to provide them with the care they need. Keep reading to learn more about the signs of aging in dogs and cats, and how to approach veterinary care, nutrition, mobility and more in your pet’s golden years.

caring for senior cats

Is My Dog or Cat a Senior?

The age your pet is considered a “senior” varies by their size, breed, and species. Large breed dogs age the quickest and may be considered a senior when they reach age 7, while smaller breeds (under 50lbs.) may not be considered a senior until age 10. Cats are typically considered seniors after they reach age 10 or 11. Regardless of your pet’s breed or species, it’s important to know what to look out for as your cat or dog ages so you can care for your senior pet and give them the best possible life! We have compiled everything you need to know about how to care for your pet as they enter their senior years.

SIGNS OF AGING IN PETS

  • Lower energy level
  • Increased sleep
  • Decline of hearing and/or vision
  • Decreased mobility
  • Confusion
  • Medical issues
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Incontinence
  • Poor skin and coat quality

HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR SENIOR DOG OR CAT

Veterinary Care

As your cat or dog ages, you should have them seen by the veterinarian more frequently to monitor their health and catch any diseases or other medical issues that may arise. Senior pets are more prone to kidney or liver disease, thyroid issues, arthritis, gastrointestinal upset, cognitive dysfunction, cancers, and more. If you have your senior pet examined by a vet twice a year, there is a much better chance of finding, managing, or treating problems before they progress too far.

Parasite Control for Senior Dogs & Cats

Our pets are vulnerable to parasites (like hookworms, fleas, ticks and more) at every age. It’s important to keep up with preventive anti-parasitics for senior pets, so follow your veterinarian’s recommendation for dewormers and other medications.

Do Senior Dogs & Cats Need Vaccines?

Like adult dogs and cats, older animals (especially those with weakened immune systems) need to stay current with vaccinations—typically given every three years. Some vaccines (like Lyme disease) are only effective for a year or less and may need more frequent boosters. For senior cats, their recommended vaccination schedule may depend on how much time they spend outdoors (if any), so check with your vet.

Dental Care

Cleaning your pet’s teeth is an important part of preventive healthcare, especially for older dogs and cats with an increased risk of age-related diseases.

Benefits of Teeth Cleaning for Senior Dogs & Cats:

  • Senior dogs and cats are more likely to develop oral tumors, so regular teeth cleaning makes it more likely they’ll be detected early.
  • Removing bacterial buildup (tartar and plaque) from teeth reduces the risk of it spreading and causing serious infection.
  • Proper dental care helps prevent gum disease, which is very painful.

Being diligent about dental care for your senior pet can make a huge difference in their quality of life as they grow older. Learn more about keeping your pet’s teeth healthy.

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Vision and hearing loss and any mental decline can cause your senior pet to get confused in your home. Try to keep the furniture layout consistent and create clear pathways throughout the home. Avoid changing the location of your pet’s food and water bowls or their litter box so they always know where they are.

Mobility & Comfort

Arthritis and joint pain are common in aging pets, especially senior dogs. These conditions can cause decreased mobility and pain that may lead to behavioral changes. Managing your pet’s discomfort and supporting their joints is important throughout their senior years and essential to proper senior pet care. Investing in a quality orthopedic pet bed will help your cat or dog by offering support as they lie down, as these beds are designed to cradle your pet’s body so they aren’t sinking to the floor. To protect your pet’s joints and avoid injury, limit them jumping on and off furniture by using pet stairs or ramps. These are also helpful for getting larger senior dogs into your car. If your pet is showing signs of pain, consult with a veterinarian on ways to relieve their discomfort with pain medication. All-natural joint support nutrition, like Stella’s Solutions: Hip & Joint Boost, can also help.

Exercise for Senior Dogs & Cats

Regular physical activity remains important for the health of older animals. An active lifestyle helps aging pets retain muscle mass, and maintain a healthy weight. Weight changes can signal a health issue, so schedule a wellness check if your senior dog or cat gains or loses weight.

For older dogs, pay attention to their behavior and energy levels during and after walks. Senior dogs can be more sensitive to extreme temperatures, or may need to walk more slowly. If your senior dog has arthritis, hip dysplasia, or other condition, ask your vet about appropriate activities.

Older cats tend to move less than they did in their prime, so you may need to get new toys or invent new games to engage them in active play. Daily exercise is an important part of avoiding obesity in old age, but keep in mind your senior cat may have less stamina or dexterity.

Mental Stimulation for Senior Cats & Dogs

Mental stimulation (aka enrichment) is important for cats and dogs throughout their lifespan. Enrichment can take the form of activities like puzzles and games. Mental stimulation can also come from their environment, such as:

  • Safe outdoor time 
  • Scratching posts, perches, and places to hide
  • Snuffle mat, lick mats or chew toys for senior dogs

Just because your senior pet may have slowed down doesn’t mean they’re done learning. Training your older dog or cat to learn new tricks, commands, or games can be very rewarding for your pet and strengthen your bond.

Incontinence

As they grow older, your pet’s bathroom habits may not be as perfect as they once were. If your cat or dog is having accidents in your home or going outside of the litter box, always have them seen by the veterinarian first to rule out any underlying medical issues, like a urinary tract infection or kidney problems. For cats, consider buying a larger sized litter box that is lower to the ground for easy access. For dogs, try taking them out more often and on a regular basis after they wake up from a nap. Dogs that tend to urinate very frequently may need dog diapers or wraps while they’re inside. These are easy to put on and can provide peace of mind in your home. Putting out pee pads for cats and dogs is also worth a try and can be extremely convenient if your pet uses them.

Grooming

Grooming is important for dogs and cats throughout their lives, and especially in senior pets. Brushing your senior dog or cat on a regular basis is a great opportunity to spot changes that could be early warning signs of a health issue such as lumps or wounds on their skin, or discharge from their ears. Just like humans, older animals’ skin gets thinner, so be sure to use the right type of brush for their coat length and thickness. 

Older cats may not be able to groom themselves as well as the years pass, which could lead to matted fur. Mats on dogs and cats can be painful as the skin beneath becomes irritated.

If your senior dog or cat has incontinence, it’s important to keep the surrounding area clean and trimmed to make cleanup easier and avoid skin infections. Nail trimming becomes more important as pets grow older. Overgrown nails are bad for our furry friends’ posture and gait, and this can be especially problematic if your pet has arthritis or other mobility issues. Learn more about trimming dogs’ nails or trimming cats’ nails.

caring for senior dogs

Nutrition for Senior Dogs and Cats

Quality nutrition is imperative to support your senior pet’s overall well-being as they grow older. Choose less processed foods that are gentler on the digestive system with quality ingredients. Consider a diet that contains probiotics and antioxidants to help promote whole body health. Raw food is a great option for older pets because it’s less processed, easier to digest, and retains more nutrients and antioxidants. Wet foods are also beneficial for senior pets with missing teeth or who have oral health issues. Learn more about Stella & Chewy’s nutritional philosophy and commitment to quality.

Hydration for Senior Pets

As with humans, water is the most important nutrient for dogs and cats of all ages. Senior dogs and cats have a higher risk of dehydration, so it’s important to monitor your senior dog or cat’s water intake. Raw foods and wet foods are great options for older pets because they have a high moisture content. Learn more about keeping cats hydrated, and foods that help hydrate dogs.

Feeding Senior Pets

Aging can cause changes in your dog or cat’s digestion, as well as their sense of taste and smell. This can lead to changes in eating behavior and weight. You may need to adjust your senior pet’s diet and feeding routine to ensure proper nutrition. Learn more in our guide to feeding senior dogs and cats.

Traveling with Senior Pets

Even if your dog or cat has been comfortable traveling in the past, you should take their age into consideration before bringing a senior pet along on your next trip. It’s common for older dogs and cats to experience more anxiety, which could be worsened by travel.

Air travel can be very stressful, even for young and healthy pets. Traveling by plane—especially in a cargo hold—may not be an option for older animals. Most airlines won’t allow animals with certain medical conditions to fly. Senior dogs with cognitive decline, incontinence, or joint pain would likely be extremely uncomfortable flying.

Road trips can also prove more problematic for senior dogs and cats. Mobility issues can make getting in and out of the car difficult, and your pet may need more frequent potty breaks. If you must travel with an older pet, take extra steps to ensure their comfort and safety at every stage, and plan for more flexibility in your schedule. If your senior cat or dog is staying behind, try to arrange for an in-house pet sitter so their routine stays as stable as possible (though boarding is also an option). Learn more about traveling with pets, and how to make the ultimate pet sitter checklist.

Helping Senior Dogs & Cats Find Forever Homes

Stella & Chewy’s is committed to helping senior pets find forever homes through our Journey Home Fund. During Adopt a Senior Pet Month each November, we help sponsor adoption fees for senior dogs and cats. Learn more about how we can help you adopt a senior pet by visiting our adopt page!

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