The Showcase Magazine - Articles

Caring for the Gray Muzzle Crowd

By Mary Lou Hanlon

If you are fortunate, at some point in your life you will get the opportunity to care for an aging pet. I say fortunate because these are the animals that will lay lovingly at your feet, content in the knowledge that they are loved by you and want nothing more than to spend their days right beside you.

This human/animal bond does not develop overnight but grows throughout the countless positive experiences you have with your pet during its life. If your pet manages to stay healthy, the patient, caring interaction that is fostered during all life stages results in the older animal that idolizes the ground you walk on.

As your pet ages their bodies change. Dietary needs, potty habits, orthopedic challenges and changes in hearing and eyesight are just some of the common changes in our geriatric pets. Veterinarian medicine has evolved greatly and many of these ailments can be improved with the partnership of an experienced veterinarian. The aches and pains associated with your loyal animal getting older can be helped by your vet, allowing your pet to age with grace and comfort.

Geriatric dogs and cats should be checked by the vet a minimum of twice a year. As pets get older their bodies change more rapidly, hence the increase to twice a year visits from the annual vet check of the adult animal.

Dogs and cats tend to be stoic creatures. Outward signs of discomfort like crying, panting, lack of mobility, are oftentimes not seen until a condition is quite developed. Blood and urine tests and other diagnostic procedures can be done by the vet to help uncover some underlying health issues before they get out of hand.

Be sure to communicate any changes in your pet’s behavior no matter how insignificant they may seem to you. Pets can’t use the English language to communicate how they are feeling. Pay close attention to changes in their gait, their weight, frequency of wetting and pooping, changes in temperament and coat, as even the slightest changes can signify something is brewing.

Arthritic changes are quite common in older pets. Use of therapies such as acupuncture, cold laser and massage can greatly increase your beloved pets comfort. Discuss these options with your veterinarian. They will be able to guide you to practitioners that offer these services.

Your vet may also prescribe the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, (NSAIDS). If appropriate, the use of NSAIDS can help your pet age gracefully.

Even though the aging pet may be significantly less active than in its youth, it is important to give your senior mental and physical stimulation. Keeping both its brain and body moving will help ward off the affects of the calendar. Just like people, animals need to use it or lose it! A walk in the park on a lovely day, getting a new squeaky toy or a yummy bone to chew can make your animal feel the excitement of being a kid again. You’d be surprised how much you also will enjoy seeing your animals delight!

Our aging pets do come with some inconvenience attach. Administering medication, more frequent outside trips or additional litter box cleanings are quite common. Assisting your animal to get up from a prone position or if your home has hardwood floors perhaps you will have to put runners down to prevent slipping. Pet ramps can aid your animal to go up and down stairs or into the car. These minor inconveniences are all part of the pact we make with the animal when we first bring it into our home. Being a good caregiver to your older animal will be a rewarding experience to you both.

Mary Lou Hanlon is a longtime resident of Warren and is the owner of PetMinders, Inc, The Kennel Alternative. PetMinders has been providing professional pet sitting and dog training lessons in the privacy of clients homes for over 18 years. Mary Lou is one of the nation's top agility competitors. She has competed both nationally and internationally and has received numerous awards in both dog obedience and agility. She can be reached at 908-755-PETS (7387), via email at or visit the website