Enrichment Ideas for Senior Pets


The need to enrich lives of pets has been made abundantly clear by behavior experts in book like Decoding Your Dog andDecoding Your Cat  but that need doesn’t fade away as pets age.

Enrichment allows pets to exhibit hard-wired natural behaviors, and also encourages choice.

Among cats the need to seek (or hunt) and pounce (or successfully find a meal), all referred to as the prey drive, doesn’t change as the cat ages. Play with an interactive cat toy – such as a fishing pole-type toy – doesn’t need to go on for more than five minutes or be as intense, but that need remains.

Many dog breeds were bred to do a job, and unlike humans, most dogs don’t opt for early social security and retirement. And one canine career that never dissipates is the need to please us.

However, adjustments may need to be made taking a pet’s age into consideration.

Offering treats in various places around the house is great for cats, but geriatric cats may not be able to climb to those high places as easily. Actually, movement and getting to high places is no less important. The solution is to offer a step stool or piece of furniture to step up to so no acrobatics are required.

While their sniffers may not be as efficient as they once were, even old dogs love using their sense of smell which at its worst is still about 20,000 times better than ours.

For dogs not only is finding treats in random places fun, but also discovering random scents. Begin an exchange program of dog toys belonging to a friend who has a dog, or spray a clean rag with Lavender or even rubbing that rag on a neighbor’s cats’ scent. Even geriatric dogs will find excitement with these surprise discoveries.

Throughout their lives, many dogs enjoy chewing. However, older dogs may be more inclined to break teeth and/or items may cause stomach upset. Instead of leaving products like antlers, hooves, hard bones or even rawhide, there are countless “squishy” treats which require some chewing but are not as likely to break teeth or cause damage to the delicate gums. Possibilities include but totally aren’t limited to apple slices (which can be frozen for a “better chew”), mini-carrot sticks or Virbac C.E.T Oral Hygiene Chews  Of course, veterinary advice of what applies to individual pets is always suggested.

For most (not all) cats, catnip or silvervine can provide a fun release, and valerian root can have calming affects, which can be helpful since some older cats may also be anxious.

We have all heard stories about how adding a second pet provides a new spark, and the older pet begins to play like a young one. Beware, because adding another pet to a household may be an example of far too much change for a geriatric pet to deal with. A seriously ill pet or a pet in declining health is unlikely to benefit from having another member of their same species. In fact, sometimes such a change may cause that pet to go downhill faster. A pet who has no previous experience living with another pet might have done fine if that other pet had been introduced at a younger age, but the timing now might not be right. Also, new cats, in particular, must be introduced very gradually into a home with an existing older cat. Having said all that, a second pet may be positively enriching.

One totally safe bet is adding a virtual pet for dogs and cats who watch TV, check out YouTube videos with rodents and birds for cats. And dogs generally like to watch other dogs on TV, but some dogs will watch sporting events, following a fast-moving hockey puck or watching a football game, just about anything with a ball.

There’s increasing evidence that stimulation resulting from an enriched environment may delay or even prevent onset on canine or feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome, which is a dog or cat version of Alzheimer’s.

Aging dogs have been used as model for older people, and it turns out that there are real and similar benefits for both species. For example, walking turns out to be just as beneficial for older dogs as it is for older people In fact, a simple walk, especially exploring new neighborhoods, may be the most enriching activity for any dog. Think of all those new and exciting smells And social dogs benefit by meeting new people and new dogs. While some older dogs may be too impaired for a walk, the walk doesn’t need to break speed or distance records. Or debilitated dogs may even be pushed in a carrier or wagon Some cats also enjoy touring ‘the hood’ riding in a kitty stroller.

Independent and assisted living centers for seniors have encouraged adult continued education, such as learning a computer program or how to play chess, as well as encouraging movement through exercise classes. Studies support that these activities are beneficial for both the mental and physical health of residents. In many ways, dog and cat brains operate in a similar way to human brains, and age similarly. New challenges are important. That old axiom from grandpa turns out to be right for people and for dogs and cats, when he said, “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.”

There are numerous studies to support the notion that laughter is, as the old expression goes, the best medicine. If that is the case in people, might the same be true for dogs or cats? Perhaps an antidote to illnesses associated in aging pets is simply to encourage them to have a good time.