Senior Pet Care & Pets with Disabilities

A dog with a disability

Senior pets make wonderful companions, as they have already had all required veterinary care, have some training under their collar, and are often lower energy than their younger counterparts. Likewise, many pets with disabilities make wonderful companions, and can lead relatively normal lives often with just a few minor adjustments and accommodations.

When is a pet considered senior?

It varies, but generally speaking, cats and small dogs are considered “senior” at about seven years of age. Because many large dog breeds have shorter life spans compared to smaller breeds, they are considered senior at about the age of 5 or 6 years old.

For reptiles, it will vary depending on their lifespan, but signs to watch for include sluggish behavior, eating less, and worn pigmentation. Birds such as budgies (parakeets) are considered senior at around the age of 5, while cockatiels are considered senior at about the age of 7-10. Generally speaking, once a reptile or bird has reached about half their expected life span they are considered senior.

Do senior pets require special care?

Most senior pets won’t require much in the way of special care. For many, a change in diet is one of the only changes you’ll really have to make. Once your cat or dog reaches the age of about 7, you’ll want to start giving them a pet food formulated specifically for seniors. This is because senior pets are not as active, and tend to have lower caloric requirements than younger animals.

You might find your senior pet needs less exercise in old age compared to their younger days. That’s OK. Follow their cues and let them set the pace for playtime and walks. A senior pet might also enjoy more quiet time to themselves, so try to keep their bed and toys in a less busy location of the home if possible.

As pets age, you might find they sleep more than they used to — again, this is a normal part of the aging process. However, all those extra zzzs mean your pet might require a more supportive bed. They might also have trouble climbing the stairs, so be prepared to help carry them up, or move their bed to where they spend the most time.

You might also find your senior pet has trouble reaching their food bowls or chewing their food as they age. Modifying dish placement and dietary options can alleviate any discomfort. If your pet has joint problems relating to their old age, supplements such as glucosamine might prove helpful. (Always consult your vet first.)

Don’t forget to continue with annual checkups at the vet as your pet ages, and more frequently if they develop a medical condition which needs to be monitored. Older pets are subject to the same types of problems as older humans, including kidney and liver issues, joint problems, cancer, and diabetes.

What disabilities can pets have?

Many pets, especially cats and dogs, can have the same or similar disabilities as their human counterparts, including: mobility issues; sensory issues, such as blindness and deafness; diabetes; allergies; epilepsy; and bone and skeletal problems, such as osteoporosis, paralysis, or hip dysplasia. Ensuring your pet has regular trips to the vet can help to catch any disabilities as soon as possible, allowing for early intervention, treatment, and management.

For disabled pets, key issues around care involve ensuring that any pain is controlled, that  elimination issues are managed, and that mobility is maintained whenever possible. Diapers and wheelchairs can help dogs and cats remain engaged in their family.

If you have a pet that is blind, ensuring their space remains the same will help them to avoid bumping into furniture and knowing where their bed and food are. You can also use your voice to let them know you are nearby. For deaf animals, catching their attention visually can help to avoid startling them, while keeping them safely contained ensures they won’t have an accidental run-in with a car.

While senior pets and pets with disabilities are not without their challenges, with often just a simple modification or two, many can lead full and happy lives, and make excellent companions.

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