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Maintaining Your Pet's Behavioral Health During Her "Golden Years"

By Pia Silvani, CPDT-KA, CCBC

I recently found a lovely videotape of my two Golden Retrievers. A smile came to my face upon seeing this happy-go-lucky pair of “golden oldies” hiking through woods, swimming in lakes and calmly lying by my side during a summer picnic.

Isn’t this why we have pets, to enjoy them as youngsters and adore them as seniors? Thankfully, my four-legged family members lived full lives, Chester to age 12 and Ashley to 15. Why? It is simple; my husband and I kept them active, both physically and mentally. Just as it is important for humans to remain busy during their retirement years, a sound mind and body are crucial for the aging pet. It is up to you to help Rover or Mittens accomplish these lofty goals. As the number of candles on your pet’s birthday cake mounts, a few tips to ease the transition.


  • For felines who are still spry when the sun goes down, rather than placing their meals in a bowl, hide little pieces of kibble around the home. Searching for food will keep them busy, provide exercise and spark their brains.

  • Hang toys throughout the house so tabby can enjoy a workout while you are away. It is important to maintain daily play sessions with kitty. These opportunities to interact with you will help her stay fit and sleep better at night.

  • As a cat’s jumping ability diminishes with age, place stepping boxes next to her favorite elevated viewing areas and/or resting places. In addition to physical exercise, your cat will receive sensory stimulation by “taking in” the great outdoors.

  • Offer an additional litter box or one easier to step into. Feline soiling problems can be due to difficulty of litter box access.

  • Slower and less able to defend themselves, older cats should remain safely indoors.


  • You can teach an old dog new tricks. Daily leash walks and trick training are ideal ways to give your dog both physical and mental exercise. There are many books available on trick training for the elder dog.

  • During the day, leave your dog with a few stuffed toys or sterilized bones. These “problem-solvers” can help keep his mind busy in your absence. In addition to cleaning the teeth, chewing bones work muscles in a dog’s neck, legs and back.

  • Foam, orthopedic-type cushion beds are good for a canine’s joints and allow for easier rising. Teach your dog to roll over on her bed. Not only is it a fun trick, but it helps stretch a pooch’s back muscles.

Exercise - The best time to start learning and exercising is at an early age. And pets need daily stimulation and activity, not only on the weekends when it might be more convenient. Keep a watchful eye on Fido and be careful not to overexert her. At her age she might not be able to go as far or as fast. I don’t recommend starting a jogging program with your ten-year-old dog. But if she has been running with you for years, by all means, continue. Looking for another fun, healthy activity for your pooch? Take her swimming. But check with your veterinarian before starting your animal companion on an exercise program.

Grooming – It is never too late to teach your dog to “stay” while she is being brushed. Put a little peanut butter on a smooth vertical surface, such as the refrigerator, for her to lick so you can keep her stable while brushing. For the most part, cats groom themselves and will require less of your assistance. However, a tasty treat—such as tuna—is always handy when grooming your favorite feline.

We should treasure every moment with our pets, from when they are precocious lads to venerable companions. That has never been truer since losing both of my four-legged senior citizens over the past two years. After each passing, I mourned. But I take great comfort that my losses have given me wonderful memories of irreplaceable friends. Perhaps it is partly the reason we continue to have pets in our lives. People’s enormously enriching relationships with companion animals far outweighs the heartaches accompanying their loss. Hopefully by engaging your pet’s mind, body and spirit, she will be around longer to create even more wonderful memories.

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