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SPCA celebrates elderly pets on International Day of Older Persons

01 October 2019
SPCA celebrates elderly pets on International Day of Older Persons

Ahead of International Day of Older Persons (October 1), SPCA is celebrating elderly animals and the love they bring to the lives of New Zealanders. With adult and senior pets often overlooked at its centres, SPCA is shining a light on elderly pets, in hopes that families might consider the benefits and joys an older pet can bring.

SPCA provides support to more than 41,000 animals every year, and many of these animals are elderly. In terms of age, cats generally live from 12 to 18 years, and dogs generally live from 10 to 12 years.

Jimi the 13-year-old Jack terrier cross was adopted from SPCA’s Auckland Centre in June by Murray Whitehead and his wife. Murray says Jimi is loving his new life, particularly going for walks around his new neighbourhood in Mangere Bridge. Murray says that Jimi has settled in beautifully and is “always close by, especially when we are near the kitchen!”

While Jimi has slight arthritis, this is managed with medication, and as he’s prone to feeling the cold, he wears a coat when out walking. Murray encourages people who are thinking of adopting to consider an older animal, as “they are very faithful, and not as active as a younger pet.”

Jimi the elderly dog with new owner Murray
Jimi the elderly dog with new owner Murray

SPCA’s top tips for owners of elderly pets

Keep their senses active

For cats and dogs who are less mobile in their older years, stimulation of the senses – sight, sound, and smell – can work wonders. If your dog enjoys car rides, schedule these into their routine so they can still enjoy getting out of the house. Alternatively, if your dog is more of a homebody but loves the company of another canine and loved the dog park when they were younger, look at scheduling ‘play’ dates at home with a friend or family member’s dog they know well. Just ensure their energy levels are well matched.

Research has proven the wonderful benefits classical music and audio books can have on decreasing anxiety for animals in a shelter environment – these same techniques can be used at home. Try playing a classical music playlist while you are out to help your pet relax. Scent work can be very rewarding for dogs of any age and is a great way to keep them active and stimulated. There are also various phone apps available to entertain cats with moving images or cartoons – depending on what your feline enjoys; these can help keep their mind active.

Enrichment and obedience

Use puzzle toys that encourage older pets to work out how to get their food or hide treats in parcels around their favourite room to encourage search behaviour. Your vet may recommend a specialist diet in your pet’s older age, so just make sure the food you give them as part of enrichment is from their regular daily meals.

Research suggests that continuing to teach your dog new tricks can help slow down cognitive deterioration. Commands that do not require much physical exertion from your dog include; ‘shake’, touching a hand or object with their nose, lying down on their comfy bed, or choosing which hand the treat is in.

Gentle play and exercise

If your dog loves playing fetch, try rolling their ball to them at ground level instead of throwing it in the air so they don’t put pressure on their joints.

Replacing long walks with more frequent, shorter walks, swimming or even hydrotherapy can be fantastic for your senior dog. For your cat, you can encourage them to chase their favourite knitted mouse or feather wand around the house at a level that suits them.

Create a geriatric friendly space

Look at tailoring your home for your elderly companion; add extra steps or ramps up to their favourite seat on the couch, put down soft, non-slip rugs on the floor to provide more secure footing, and supply your cat or dog with lots of comfy, soft beds. Some pet stores or online suppliers also sell specialist orthopedic beds to suit your pet’s needs. Heated blankets are also popular to help achy joints, just make sure these are designed for pets and only used under supervision.

Finally, don’t forget to show your senior companion plenty and love and affection. They may not be as able to demand this from you as when they were younger, but this social interaction is vital is strengthening your bond and making sure they are feeling loved and part of the family in their older years.

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