It is no doubt that the cancelled concerts, travel plans, and other summer adventures are a disappointment from this pandemic. There has also been quite a bit of generalized stress and anxiety in this time. However, I find myself grateful for all of the time I have to spend with my pets, especially my two senior pets. While it’s something I know I actively try not to think about (a bit of healthy denial, if you will) I know that my time with my senior dog and cat is limited. In reflecting on my own personal experience, and the experiences that several clients have shared with me, this time with my older pets has been truly precious.

 In this article, I hope to share some general advice on how to use this time to enrich the relationship between you and your senior pets and to share some of my own personal experiences.

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There are some comical memes floating around the internet about the dog versus cat response to have their humans around all of the time (see below). We will now go through some ideas and examples of enrichment for both dogs and cats.

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Outdoor Recreation with Your Senior Dog

Fortunately, despite a pandemic, outdoor recreation is still a safe option for many. This includes hiking, camping, walking, kayaking, etc. My sweet St. Bernard mix, Charlie, turned 10 this year and I was able to get a great deal on an inflatable kayak. Charlie and I both had a blast relaxing and floating around McIntosh Lake in Longmont.

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We’ve also been camping in Colorado and South Dakota this summer. Next on our list is Wyoming! Both of my dogs have also been on more walks than I think they’ve ever consistently had.

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Tips to Enrich your Relationship with your Senior Dog

Some older dogs may have mobility issues or respiratory issues and prefer to spend their time inside the comfort of their own home. Here are some other ideas for some quality time and mental stimulation.

  • Puzzle toys where food and treats can be hidden and give your older pup mental stimulation. Not to mention, this could be entertaining to watch. Freezing xylitol-free peanut butter or low sodium chicken broth in a Kong toy (or comparable durable toy) for a long lasting tasty and mentally challenging treat is another alternative.
  • If you’re baking inclined, baking healthy homemade dog biscuits can be fun for you and delightful for your pup. There are lots of great recipes online!
  • Snuggles. There’s always the classic option of snuggling up and watching one of your favorite shows with your pups too.
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Tips to Enrich your Relationship with your Senior Cat

As far as our senior feline companions go, they need some extra love and mental stimulation too. My cat Sydney is 14 and she adores her cat tree by the window, cat nip, sun bathing, and curling up with me on the couch. Sometimes having humans around all day can be stressful for cats (as they spend much of their day sleeping and enjoy peace and quiet) so it’s important for them to have a quiet, safe place to rest. Below are some ideas for quarantining with a senior cat: 

  • Consider building or purchasing a cat tree. This gives your cat an elevated surface where they feel safe and can observe. Putting a cat tree in front of a window can be a great option as this creates a sun bathing area and a place where cats can watch birds, squirrels, and activity outside. 
  • Scratching posts. Even the cardboard scratching posts can be a great option to keep your cat entertained. Being able to scratch surfaces is also a natural and important need of our feline companions. Cats often prefer to have both vertical and horizontal scratching surfaces. 
  • Puzzle toys and feeders are not just for dogs. They are an excellent option for cats and provide mental stimulation and stimulate the natural “hunting” instincts. If your cat enjoys racing the bottom of their food bowl, puzzle feeders can help them slowly savor their meals.  
  • Catios have grown in popularity and can be built outside, often attached to a window or doorway, and allow your cat to safely experience being outside protected from predators and cars. Check out this cool patio that my friends built:
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  • Many cats enjoy a good cuddle party too but of course this is on their terms. If the timing is right, some time on the couch watching a good movie with your cat is a great way to spend quality time with them. 
  • Catnip is not just for kittens! Many older cats become very playful and enjoy the effects of catnip too. This can provide entertainment not only for your cat, but also for you! 
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While the pandemic certainly puts forward some challenges, I hope these ideas help you make some of this extra time special with your senior pets.

Written By: Dr. Emilea Burton, Caring Pathways Veterinarian

After spending several years in general practice, Dr. Emilea learned about Caring Pathways and the important services they provide in the community. She believes palliative care and providing a peaceful end of life transition are perhaps the most meaningful gifts we can give to our pets. She is grateful for the opportunity to bring comfort and compassion to families and pets during these final stages of life. Click here to read Dr. Emilea's full bio.

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