Caring for an Elderly Pet

As a pet grows old, like people, their needs change. A dog that previously could hold it all day while you were at work likely can't anymore due to incontinence, dementia, or simply an old bladder that is no longer so elastic. A cat or dog may be more snappy, due to constant pain from arthritis. A cat that could previously jump up to where you had his/her water and food or pet door may no longer be able to due to degeneration of hips and knees; blown ACLs are extremely common in old cats (and recoverable without surgery as I discovered with my Raja). GI problems also present - food that may previously have been fine may now cause UTIs or vomiting and diahrea. Loss of teeth due to aging, and dehydration (they often drink less water when they get older) give rise to the need for canned food even if previously on dry - easy to chew and 80% moisture.

Some tips to deal with a pet struggling with old age:

  • A visit to the vet is in order to determine what can be done - pain management, incontinence meds, surgical options, arthritis medications, physical therapy - and even acupuncture. 
  • Pet stairs or ramps (I personally have had better luck with ramps) help a dog get into an SUV after a walk at the park, or a cat up to a window perch, or a cat or dog up and down from the bed or couch. They make ramps that fold up so you can easily put it in the trunk/back of the car.
  • Puppy pads placed in areas around the house (I like to put the by the door where I always take my dogs in and out to do their business - the association is easy for them to make), creating tiled (non carpeted) areas to gate them so cleanup is easy. Replacing high sided, lidded litter boxes with long, low pans lined with potty pads make it easy for a cat with hip joint problems to stand and urinate; this often prevents accidents because they can no longer balance and squat in a standard box on shifting litter. See our scoop the poop page for more info on this. I also put potty peds under the pet blankets/beds on the couches so if they have an accident, it doesn't soak through to the furniture and I just throw out the potty pad (and wash the bed).
  • Cosequin is a great for cats with arthritis. I have found in severe arthritis cases it is not effective enough, and the Vet has prescribed Adequan which seems to work miracles in ancient cats (mine). I have also found for cats that don't like the taste of Cosequin (mine), NutriVet's tube of Hip and Joint Extra Strength Salmon flavored Gel (which contains the same thing - Glucosamine) will be happily licked right off my finger. Its available at most pets supply stores and inexpensive; I divide the once daily dose they list into 2 doses - morning and bedtime.
  • For dogs, I have not had good experience with Metacam; it gave several of my dogs bleeding ulcers so on top of arthritis they were now vomiting blood (which looks like coffee grounds by the way so if you see that in your pet's vomit, get them to a Vet as fast as  you can - internal bleeding is not something to wait on! Carafate is the treatment - along with no Metacam). Rymadyll works well, and has less GI issues. I have found it to be very good. I've also had steriod - long acting - shots given. Note that for cats, frequent steroid shots can sometimes  cause diabetes.
  • Self warming blankets and snuggle safe help keep old joints loose and less painful, and avoid having a heating pad left plugged in when you aren't home. See our unique tools page for more information on these.
  • And after wasting tons of money on urine smell removers, I found Listerine mouthwash works better than anything. It smells good too. It leaves a sticky spot, which you'll need to wipe away after you let it sit for a few hours. I haven't tried washing blankets with it - I usually buy bins of them at places like Salvation Army and Goodwill where I can get 50 blankets for $10 and I just throw them out if a pet has an accident. 
  • Hyperthyroid is very common in cats as they age. Excessive thirst and weight loss are signals, along with constant hunger. Its extremely easy to solve with Methimazole rubbed in the ear flap or flavored chewable Methimazole tablets which some cats like (I have 1 that loves them, and another that hates them so its ear flap for her).
  • Dementia and loss of vision are common. The tips on our caring for a blind pet page also work for dementia. And never leave a pet with dementia unattended even in your own backyard. They could fall in the pool and drown, or wander out via a loose board or gate and be hit by a car.