Seven Rules for the Over Seven Set, Pt. 3

Taking good care of our senior patients is a top priority at the Cuyahoga Falls Veterinary Clinic. We’ve touched on a number of senior-related issues in previous blog posts (such as Silver Screen: For Your Senior Pet’s Health).

The following article appeared in fetch! Magazine not that long ago. Because it fits with our philosophy of geriatric medicine, we would like to share it here in the final of three parts. Picking up where we left off with Part 2

As pets age, their mental abilities may dull and behavior may change. To keep mental reflexes sharp, constantly provide your older pet with new experiences. Add a food puzzle, teach a new trick, take a trip to a different dog park or enroll in therapy pet classes. Rotate toys by packing old ones out of sight and offering a “new” one every two to three days.

Too often we humans fall into habits that cease to stimulate our brains. Even a simple change such as reversing your normal walking route can provide freshness to an otherwise stale routine. As often as possible, ask yourself, “How can I make this more fun or interesting?”

Older pets tend to have a higher incidence of phobias and anxiety. If your pet suddenly becomes fearful of thunderstorms or loud noises, has accidents in the house, or begins to wake unexpectedly at night, see your veterinarian. Nutritional supplements, behavior training and medications can help your older pet maintain normal abilities and combat age-related behavioral changes.

Nothing stalls the progression of time better than exercise. Regardless of your pet’s current physical status, daily walks or play can rewind years’ worth of damage and boost your pet’s mental and physical health. For dogs, a brisk 20-to-30-minute walk once or twice a day is just what this doctor orders. For cats, interactive toys such as feather dancers, laser lights or remote-controlled toys can get even the laziest cat on its feet. Whatever activities you choose, just do it — doctor’s orders.

In almost 20 years of practicing veterinary medicine, I’ve witnessed one thing innumerable times — a new pet breathes new life into older pets.

Not long ago I diagnosed a long-time patient, Prince, with a serious form of heart disease. After outlining a treatment plan, I told the owner that my next best advice was a bit unorthodox: get a new puppy. I shared with her the fact that many times the older pet seems to regain lost vigor and lives much longer than I’d ever dreamed possible whenever a new pet is introduced. What I didn’t tell her was that adding a new pet before losing one helps soften the loss. Sure enough, two months later she appeared in my office with a brand new puppy and a brand new “old” dog. It had been years since I’d seen Prince prance like that!

Prince lived another year-and-a-half, at least six to 12 months longer than I’d originally estimated. The beautiful part of the story was that not only did Prince live a longer and better life than I’d expected, but when it was time to let him go, the owner had a new friend to console her. I’ll keep recommending a new best buddy for every old friend I see.

Our pets don’t read calendars or celebrate birthday milestones. Pets celebrate every morning when we wake up to greet them, when we return home from a long day’s work and when we take time to play and snuggle. Our pets don’t know how old they are and I plan on keeping it that way. After all, as Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “We do not quit playing because we grow old. We grow old because we quit playing.”

Play on, dear friends. Play on.

Written by Dr. Ernie Ward
Originally written for fetch! magazine, a Petplan pet insurance magazine. Learn more about Petplan at
Reproduced with permission from the author and editor.

We hope that you have enjoyed this conversation about the Seven Rules for the Over Seven Set. Out pets give us so much joy, and it is imperative that we give them the care that the need and deserve, especially when they need it most. We welcome your thoughts and suggestions, as well as your stories about your “senior pet experiences.”

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