One of the greatest joys of my life is caring for my senior pets. My grandma called older pets with silvery fur faces “sugar faces” so ever since I was little I’ve know how sweet older pets can be. The beautiful girl you see in the photo is a “fospice” i.e foster hospice dog that my coworker Dana took into her heart and her home, and right now I have 3 senior dogs (one’s a foster too) and 2 senior cats of my own. Yes puppies and kittens are adorable, but there’s a serious advantage pets have in their senior years! All that wisdom shines through, though I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention they often have a good dose of stubbornness and selective hearing at times too! I’ve only had senior pets for the last few years, so I’m still learning about how to best care for them. Fortunately I work in animal welfare and get to take advantage of the decades of experience from all my colleagues! Here are some things I’ve learned about caring for a senior pet that I’ve learned, that I hope will help you if you’re getting ready to care for a senior pet of your own, be it a new addition that you’re adopting (senior pet adopters rock!) or an adult pet you’re looking forward to caring for as he or she grows old.
1. Take things slower
When my big dog Max was younger, he had boundless energy. He would pull me on rollerblades around my neighborhood, thrilled to be doing a job… and a fast one at that! Now that he’s just celebrated his 12th birthday, he is finally spending more time sleeping and less time wanting to go for a run. (I’ve been waiting for that for about 10 years!) Our rollerblading sessions got shorter and slower as each year passed, and last year we graduated to jogging, and this year to strolling, with plenty of sniffing breaks.
Many dogs are incredibly stoic and ignore pain, especially if they are having fun like chasing a ball or out on a hike or run. It’s up to their humans (us) to limit their intense physical activities as they get older, while still giving them plenty of outlets for their energy.
2. Keep life interesting
Even though Max isn’t pulling me on rollerblades any more, his doggie brain still years for that fun of the chase. (I suspect he has some sighthound in his mutt-i-gree heritage.) So instead, we go for car rides. I have a pull up window screen on the back seat window of my car, so I can roll the window down and he can take big happy snuffs of all the amazing smells whipping by as we go to the market, or just out for a 10 minute joy ride.
Does your dog love new toys? Especially when you come home and take them out of the crinkly bag or wrapper? Figure out your new toy budget, and spread that out so you can give your senior dog one new toy a week if you can. New toys can be almost free DIY dog toys like a new tennis ball, a plastic water bottle with some kibble inside, or a tug toy made out of a knotted tee shirt.
3. Senior TLC
Senior pets often need or just appreciate a little extra TLC. Your vet may want to see them every 6 months instead of yearly for a check-up, you may need to provide steps if you like your sugar-face friend to get up on the bed or couch with you easily without risking too big a jump up or down. For dogs, and as their sight and hearing goes, you may want to make doubly sure they aren’t going to get lost, even if they were off-leash trained before. Another wonderful way to give your senior buddy some TLC is with gentle daily massage (here’s how)– like a wonderful petting session, with a little more purpose!
4. Adopt a younger friend?
This is a really important decision to consider very thoroughly. Sometimes social pets as they age do appreciate and liven up with a younger companion. Others, especially those that have been your only pet for their entire lives, are really much happier basking in all your attention, not sharing it. Increasing your senior pet’s activity level (and happiness!) can have a very positive effect on an aging pet’s health. HOWEVER, are you sure you’re adopting that baby puppy or kitten for your senior pet — or is it for you? If you are an arthritic grandma or grandpa, you might enjoy playing with a baby for a little bit… but mostly you’d want to be enjoying restful naps in your chair, not being a chew toy or pounced on! Consider instead a youthful adult companion for your senior pet. Then you and your senior pet can enjoy the benefits of younger energy without being overwhelmed.
You can find a wonderful “sugar face” senior pet to adopt at adoptapet.com