We all know aging is a natural part of life, but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept when our furry companions start to show signs of the process. Though some deep searching, there is no cure for aging. However, we can do our best to slow down the progression with different lifestyle modifications and keep them healthy and comfortable so we can share many happy memories with them.
There are several factors that contribute to the overall health and the aging process of each individual pet. Breed, genetics, physical activity, and nutrition are just a few factors that affect the age at which pets enter this life stage. For instance, large and giant breeds may enter their senior stage at 7 or 8 years of age, while small breeds may reach it at 11 or 12 years of age. When it comes to our feline friends, they are typically considered seniors from 10-12 years of age. As they reach this milestone, we may see their pace slow, nap times increase, weight loss or gain, and coats become thin and grey. There will also be some harder to spot changes that could include a slower metabolism and a decreased immune function. Many pets, and especially cats, are very good at hiding their pain and discomfort, so it is a good idea to know all the signs and symptoms to look out for.
A few changes to take note of for your next vet visit would be:
- Altered sleep and wake cycle
- Changes in vision
- Changes in hearing
- Decreased sense of smell
- Changes in mobility
- Changes in appetite
- Digestive issues
- Increase in thirst and urination
- Accidents in the house
- Weight loss/gain
Some of the signs are just a part of being senior, but some may be indicative of a serious health concern that we want to get ahead of.
Mental and Physical Exercise
Mental and physical stimulation helps our pets enjoy their life as normal as possible for as long as possible. Many studies show you can slow the progression of age-related degeneration for both areas by adding a few activities and exercises into your routine. These moments are also an excellent chance to bond with our pets even further, and it is never too late to get started. For cats, environmental enrichment is essential to provide the physical exercise and mental stimulation that’s needed. This ranges from places to climb, places to hide, places to scratch and ways to hunt/play. Keeping them active with daily play time is very important and the use of interactive feeding toys will keep them physically and mentally stimulated for overall great health. As our cats age, we may need to look at these categories a little differently and consider mobility, but we will touch on that later on. With our canine counterparts, we have a lot more research and options for improving and maintaining their physical and cognitive health, though you could attempt some of the below suggestions with more adventurous kitties as well.
Keeping our Canines Sharp
Mental stimulation is a perfect way to prevent boredom, encourage engagement with people, other pets, and their environment, keeping them happy and healthy. Taking our forever pups on sniff walks is an excellent option for mental stimulation. Not only does it let them explore at their own pace, but it also allows them to track every scent that interests them with the safety of our supervision. We can also never get enough of our puzzle feeders and snuffle mats for our furry friends. They are an excellent mental stimulation tool leading up to and throughout their golden years as they come in such a wide variety of difficulty levels. Another suggestion is trick training. Of course, keeping their abilities in mind, trick training can be another fun way to add mental enrichment to their routine no matter the weather.
Appropriate Exercise & Canine Calisthenics
Increasing age does not have to mean decreasing activity. Our furry friends still want to play, sniff, and explore. Like many things in life, moderation is key. There may be some trial and error, but we want to find the exercise that works best for us and our pet that keeps them limber, prevent unnecessary weight gain or loss, and encourage appetite, while still keeping any limitations in mind. The more common options are slower strolls and low impact activities like swimming, but there are also canine calisthenics.
Canine calisthenics are strength and flexibility exercises that are meant to target the areas that our seniors need help with the most. These exercises can have a big impact on their quality of life both physically and mentally as they are able to continue their normal routines. Many are focused around preventing the loss of strength in the limbs, especially the rear limbs, as well as the loss of proprioception, which is the ability to know where their feet are. We are going to go over 3 calisthenic exercises that we can do at home with minimal equipment. It is a good idea to start with a warmup and finish with a cool down such as a 5-minute leash walk. You will need treats for encouragement as we want to aim for 1-3 sets of 2-5 reps of each exercise, every other day.
|Performing a few basic obedience moves on various surfaces.
|Help to tone the abdominal wall, spine, shoulders and hips.
|Start on a non-slip floor. Can also use a yoga mat, pet bed, or mattress. Start on the floor and progress to harder surfaces.
|Start with pet standing on all fours with paws on the surface of choice. Progress through the commands of sit, down, sit, down, stand, down, stand. That equals one repetition. If they do not know the cues, we can lure them into each position using treats.
|Building up the Rear
|Placing front feet on an elevated platform and stretching neck up lightly.
|Naturally, pets frontload 60-70% of their weight onto the front limbs. This exercise shifts weight onto rear limbs and firms them up.
|Any platform. A thick book (or multiple books taped together), non-slip step stool or step up on porch or deck.
|Using a treat, lure them to a standing position with their front feet on the platform. Their shoulders should be directly over their wrists as they look slightly upwards. While they do this, we stand in front of them and slowly feed about 10 small treats over 10 seconds to get them to maintain the position. This would be one rep. Once they’ve mastered 10 second repetitions, try working up to 30. *If our pet is eagerly leaning forward for the treat, the weight and shoulders have shifted over the wrists, and you end up working the forelimbs instead of the hindlimbs. If their position is ever off, walk them off the platform and try again.
|Stepping sideways in a step-together-step move.
|Engages the supporting muscles of the hips and shoulders in a sideways motion, called adduction and abduction. Helps to prevent shoulder and knee injuries and fortifies the stabilizing muscles. They will be better at changing direction, regaining balance after a misstep and getting on and off furniture safely.
|An area with enough space, such as your living room. You may use a textured surface or mats.
|To laterally step left, start with your pet on your left, facing the same direction. You want your pet’s shoulder to be aligned with your leg. With one hand, put treats in front of their nose and take a small step with both feet towards them but without touching them. Your personal space bubble will knock into your pet’s personal space bubble. For most pets, it is an automatic reaction to take a lateral step to the left to alleviate the special pressure between you. When they take the step, immediately praise them, and provide a treat. Continue the process and after going a few feet switch sides and go to the right. This would complete one repetition.
As we mentioned earlier, there are many changes our pets will go through as seniors and some of these changes have a big effect on their nutritional requirements. This could be due to lowered activity levels, unnecessary weight loss or gain, lowered immunity, dental disease and much more. The goal of proper senior nutrition is to help minimize the effects of aging. Providing the right nutrition for our seniors is considered essential to healthy aging and enhancing their quality of life.
Our older pets are typically less active and do not require the same amount of calories as their younger selves, but they still need to maintain muscle mass. They are more prone to obesity which adds an additional burden on their aging joints and can lead to many other health issues like diabetes. We want to help them maintain their optimal weight to give them the best quality of life. For the majority of our seniors, we want to be feeding a diet that is high in protein with less carbohydrates. When it comes to those with kidney disease, a high protein diet may not be best for them as it could put more burden on their kidneys. It is always best to consult with your veterinarian before changing a diet of a pet with a medical condition. Of course, there are some senior pets that are struggling to keep weight on. This is normally due to loss of smell or taste, or dental issues but could be due to an underlying condition and is best to monitor and see a vet to be safe. In these cases, we want to entice them to their food and maintain their interest. Increasing the fat in the diet will help increase palatability as well as help them gain weight. Adding tripe to the diet could help with this too.
With the decreased immune function, our seniors may also experience decreased digestion and absorption of nutrients. It is a good idea to avoid foods with too many fillers and focus on high-quality ingredients. It can also help their digestive systems if we spread out their meals to be smaller and more frequent. Many of our seniors, and especially cats, have difficulty staying hydrated, making kidney/urinary issues and constipation more likely. It is always a good idea to have multiple sources of fresh water available to them. As they get older, they may have trouble reaching higher surfaces, so try to keep the water bowls low. The use of water fountains can help entice them and remind them to drink more often as well as the use of Cat Water for our feline friends to keep urinary issues at bay. You can also keep them hydrated by increasing the moisture content in their diet by feeding more wet food which will also be great for the kidneys and easier on sensitive teeth and gums.
Supplements to Consider
There are a few nutritional supplements for our senior friends that can have a significant impact on their health. These supplements are meant to combat and prevent the health issues they need the most support with during this life stage. It is always a good idea to keep in mind that not all human foods are safe for pets, and to do a little research or ask your pet care team if you are unsure. Moderation is key and a slow introduction is typically the best way to go.
|Seniors experience a decreased ability to properly digest and absorb nutrients. We want to help breakdown the nutrients, so they are more easily digested.
|Probiotics Prebiotics Postbiotics Digestive Enzymes
|Sprouted Seeds Beet Pulp Chicory Root Goat’s Milk Green Tripe
|Senior pets have decreased immune function. We need to help support the immune system by targeting free-radicals that damage their tissues, reduce inflammation, and promote cell membrane health.
|Antioxidants (Vitamin A, C & E) Omega -3s (EPA & DHA)
|Leafy Greens Carrots Berries Fish Oil/Fish Shellfish Flaxseed
|We can improve memory, communication and overall cognitive function when combined with behavioural enrichment.
|Antioxidants (Vitamin A, C & E) Omega -3s (EPA & DHA)
|Leafy Greens Carrots Berries Fish Oil/Fish Shellfish Flaxseed
|We want to help them improve or maintain normal mobility to enjoy their life as long as possible. A great idea as early prevention as well as throughout the progression of joint issues. Safe for long term use, possible alternative to pain medication.
|Glucosamine Collagen Chondroitin Omega -3s (EPA & DHA)
|Bone Broth Tendons Fish Skin Leafy Greens Fish Oil/Fish Flaxseed
Keeping Them Comfortable & Confident
Typically, the more sedentary they become, the more rapid of a decline they may experience. For our pets, just getting around the house from bed to water bowl can be a daunting task, let alone make it all the way to the door for a washroom break. The struggle can erode their confidence and stop them from trying, especially if they have fallen and hurt themselves. The following are a few improvements we can make around their environment to help them navigate through as comfortable as possible and give them opportunity to truly relax and refuel.
Anti-slip Surfaces & Accessibility
Adding more carpets, mats, and anti-slip surfaces around the house can make a big difference. These should be placed in their usual routes, at their food and water bowls, on slippery floors, base of staircase and even on the stairs themselves. Hardwood and tile floors can be especially tricky for them. For our feline friends, the jumps between perches may be becoming too challenging. We want to provide more frequent perches so they can work their way up and try to keep necessities at ground level for easy access. The litter box may also become an issue as they age so we want to keep the entrance very low and more frequently placed throughout the home as they tend to get confused and may not be able to find it. Including pet stairs and ramps throughout their environment can help ease stress as well as minimize the risk of injury and ramps can double as cat scratchers. It helps them get in and out of the house and vehicles and is perfect for inside when trying to get on and off furniture safely.
As they stiffen with age, it may be hard for our furry friends to reach every area of their body for proper grooming. This may be escalated further if they are struggling with extra weight as well. This is the time to prevent matting with regular brushing and trimming if needed. This is also an opportunity for nails to get longer as they are not worn down as much from regular physical activity. This can lead to them becoming too long and causing discomfort which then limits their mobility. The more frequent grooming sessions provides the perfect chance to bond, examine your pet’s whole body, and pamper them with lots of love. Thoroughly look and feel for matts, lumps and bumps, ear infections and any sores. Regular grooming helps us catch issues early and intervene before it gets too serious.
The Right Bed
Unlike their younger selves, our older friends may struggle to get comfortable curled up on the floor. The hard floor does not give and is not typically forgiving on their sore bodies and the couch or human bed can be too difficult of a jump. Having a thick high-quality bed in a few of their favourite places can help them get the restorative sleep they need, stick to their preferred routine and be close to the people they love. If your beloved has joint issues like arthritis, it is a great idea to consider an orthopedic bed or one with memory foam for joint support. A heating pad or heating bed can also soothe stiffness and aches to give them some much deserved relief.
We have covered a lot of tips for inside the house, but we don’t want to lock them inside all the time. When it comes to the outside surroundings, we want to ensure they are not going to get themselves hurt. We want to restrict access to areas that have now become potentially dangerous due to mental or physical decline. This could include blocking stairways with gates and using ramps to get them in and out of the house. You will also want to check for areas like firepits, pools and window wells. While we are out on our slow strolls, we may notice they could use some extra grip to prevent them from straining too much. We can provide some additional traction through paw grips, and a variety of booties.
Don’t Forget About Yourself
As a guardian of senior pets, we often focus all our attention on them, but we need to take care of ourselves too. It can be very stressful and draining, both emotionally and physically and that is a completely normal feeling, we are not alone. Many find that making a schedule or tracker for feeding, bathroom breaks, and medication make life a little easier. It removes the stress of missed meals or double dosing and helps prevent accidents inside. We may also experience feelings of guilt at times. That we should be doing more or that we are doing too much. We are doing our best and making them feel loved and that is what matters most. Remember to take time for yourself to have fun and destress as that is a lot of weight to carry. If we do not take care of ourselves, it is much harder to provide the extra support they may need from us.
These senior years are special, and our furry friends can teach us a lot while they transition through this stage. They encourage us to slow down and have patience, try things we normally are too busy for like taking a random nap with them in the sun. They also help us perfect celebrating the small things. Our seniors help us to enjoy the more leisurely walks and truly stop to smell the flowers. Most of all, they remind us that there is nothing like unconditional love and our bond with our beloved pets.
Marketing Lead, Customer Engagement
Taylor completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Biology at the University of Guelph and has built up experience within the pet nutrition industry and the animal medical field. She has a passion to share all insights on pet nutrition and health for all of our furry (feathery, scaly or otherwise) friends.