As your pet gets older you may find that they are less interested in things than they once were. Exercise may seem less appealing to them and they might stop playing with toys that were once their favourite things in the world. Age needn’t prevent your pet from having a fulfilling, stimulating life; it might just mean that you have to be a little innovative.
Regardless of your pet’s age they still need to eat and drink. Making these essential activities fun for them will add an extra dimension to mealtimes and help keep them mentally active. Puzzle feeders like KONG products will give them a way to work for their food that isn’t too taxing and in a way that means they are unlikely to lose interest and just give up. Sealing their ordinary food into one of these with a tasty treat of a paste-like consistency (like meat or fish paste) will make the game more rewarding for them.
When it comes to water having a water fountain can make drinking seem like more fun. Dehydration is very serious so having a way to make drinking seem more interesting is a great way to keep your pet healthy.
Playtime is one of the greatest things about pet ownership but, as time goes on, the games may need to change a little bit. Aching joints and reduced stamina can mean that energetic games don’t last as long but keeping your pet active is so important. Try throwing the ball shorter distances when you play fetch to allow for lower fitness levels and diminishing eyesight. My dog Buffy is almost 12 now (which is good going for a Labrador) and she has some hearing problems so it is best to play games where she can rely on her better senses like sight or smell. We play “Hide the treat” where we will hold both hands in front of her in a fist and let her try and sniff out which hand has a chew hidden. When she chooses correctly (by sniffing one hand for a long time) she gets the treat! This game is particularly good when you use beneficial treats that contain ingredients like Glucosamine which are good for joints. For cats, who can get bored of the same toys faster, try catnip toys or even remote-controlled mice to chase. If you play to your pet’s strengths you’ll find they are usually more than happy to play, regardless of their age.
I’m sure none of you need to be encouraged to show affection for your pets; we have a number of ways that we show our pets that we love them. With age our pets can lose their hearing or sight, or even both. This means that vocalising your affection may quite literally be falling on deaf ears. Being more tactile with your dog is an unmistakable gesture that they will understand. Simple things like sitting on the floor alongside them or giving them a little stroke if they walk to heel with you will reassure your dog that you are there and that you care.
I find that I can never stress enough the vital importance of socialisation. Even cats, who have a reputation for being solitary animals, will benefit from time spent with other creatures. My grandparents’ dog Thor is really struggling in his old age and is rarely active, preferring to spend most of his time in his bed staring out of the window. The only time he perks up is when the cat, Hugo, shows up and then Thor is up on his feet and playing like his old self. Hugo is almost fifteen himself so they never play particularly boisterously or for long periods but that short injection of activity is sometimes all Thor can manage and it’s enough to improve his circulation, raise his heart rate and get the blood pumping around a little more efficiently for a while. Providing you can recognise when your pet is reaching their limits and can step in accordingly, socialisation is one of the best ways to keep your pet active, engaged and happy.
The old adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is completely untrue. In fact, older dogs can be a lot calmer and more focused than puppies are. Take the time to try and teach your dog a new trick as well as practising any command words they already know. Simple things like “paw” or “roll over” can be easy and fun to learn and, even if they don’t pick up the new command the time spent together attempting it will have given your pet some mental stimulation for a little while.
When our pets get older we are constantly reminded of how precious our time together is which is why keeping them happy and stimulated is just as important as when they are puppies.