As much as we don’t want to think about it – our beloved companions age faster then we want them to.  With the leaps and bounds in veterinary medicine – our pets are able to live longer lives then they did before, giving us more joyous time with them.  However through this – there is an interest in the rapidly growing field of the aging pet and how to care for them.

Animals – like humans go through life stages.  Often times we as owners only see the transition between puppy or kitten and well behaved adult, when in fact there are so many more stages in between.  From puppy to teenager to young adult – most dogs don’t mature until they’re at least 2 years of age.  And then depending on the size of the dog (the larger the dog, the shorter the lifespan), they may age quicker or slower then their counterparts.  Cats go from kitten to adult in a year, they age much quicker then dogs do and have lifespans up to 20 years for those lucky enough to live such long lives.

Which brings us to what is often called – the golden years.  Where owners don’t know how they’ll deal with another young energizer battery after Fluffy or Fido have passed on, and often wish that they could just transfer their beloved companions spirit into another body to avoid having to deal with puppy or kitten woes now that they are ‘perfect’ and so well behaved.

Owners, of course, always know their pets the best – and the observant owner will note that Fluffy doesn’t quite jump up on the table anymore like he used to, or Fido doesn’t seem to hold his bladder like he used to.  When these times come, meeting them with patience and understanding, and the knowledge that one day as a human we will be there as well, help a great deal.

There is always a preventative path that can be taken to make Fluffy and Fido’s golden years more comfortable.  Making sure that they’re healthy, inside and out, is the first step.  Good nutrition, good vet care and the keen observation of their owners can keep them from becoming ill ‘suddenly’.

Check teeth for tarter build up, brush their coat if it seems dull to help encourage the natural oils in the coat.  Use a shampoo that doesn’t strip away the natural oils, your vet or local groomer may be able to advise you on this.

When grooming pay attention to the condition of their –

*coat – is it dull, lackluster, or brittle?

*skin – is it flaking, dry or have fatty lumps forming? Fatty lumps are normal in the older dog, it’s when it causes discomfort or pain that they should be seen by a vet.

*ears – is there an odor? Is there discomfort when touching them? Are they shaking their head or scratching them a lot?

*eyes – is there discharge that’s not normal?  Some older dogs may develop allergies that they didn’t have before which can result in discharge.  You can also see if they are developing cataracts by the eye shine (the yellow eyes at night) – if there are dark spots in your dogs eye shine, they may be developing cataracts and need to be seen by the vet, or at least checked out.

These and many other factors are things that you should familiarize yourself with to keep them healthy as they progress into their golden years.

With age your older dog may be slower – but they’ll still appreciate a walk to work out those sore joints.  Even cats might enjoy a tumble with a toy!  Give them soft places to lay down – and even if they do choose the hard floor and become stiff later, the choice is there for them to have a nice soft spot to lay on.  Should you crate your dog, give them a nice thick pad to lay on while in the crate.  Arthritis is a common complaint for aging pets – keep in mind that this will slow them down and make them stiff after long periods of laying down or sitting, and these soft surfaces will help in the long run.

Other signs of aging besides being stiff or slower then usual can be;  hearing loss, sight loss, incontinence, even sometimes confusion.  These are all changes in our aging pets that should be met with patience and possibly (in the case of incontinence) more diligence and a change of schedule.

Keeping our companions in mind, and to make them more comfortable, help them to exercise those stiff joints, though slowly – not rough and tumble, or allow them to work out the kinks themselves for a while before playing or walking.  If you have a pet with incontinence issues – gate off sections of the house where you don’t want them to go, just keep in mind the height of the gate and your cat or dogs ability to possibly try to hop it, thus resulting in injury.

With your aging dog – work their mind, they still have one!  Especially if they’re obedience trained, work them like you would have as a young adult – the mental stimulation will be good for them and keep their mind sharp.  Take them on car rides or for short walks to give them the ability to sniff and exercise.  Keep them trim, even as an older pooch, to keep them healthy – use foods that are formulated for seniors and follow your vets advice or learn to look at your pets body and judge for yourself should they be a good weight.

The guidelines on foods are just that – a guideline.  Not every dog will need the same amount of food, judge how much they need on their body and energy levels.  A good estimation on how they should look is that if you can feel the ribs with light pressure, but not see them and there is a nice tuck at the back legs where the tummy ends – they are at a good weight.

Don’t punish your normally behaved pet should they nip for a behavior that was never an issue before.  Such as toddlers or children, or even you, waking them and startling them.  Keep in mind that Fluffy or Fido may not hear as well as they used to, and aging pets tend to sleep much deeper and harder then usual – being less active and having less energy.

There are so many things to keep in mind with our aging seniors – the best policy being preventative observation to keep them safe and healthy for a long happy relationship with you.

Enjoy those golden years – and may they have many long healthy happy ones!