Thankfully, our pets are living longer than ever before! When pets live longer, they live longer as seniors, so let’s talk about how to slow down unhealthy aging and cognitive decline in our senior pets, and at the same time, keep young pets out of trouble simply by enriching their environments!
At ECVC, we love to encourage non-drug interventions such as exercise, diet and environmental enrichment, for both physical and mental benefits in cats and dogs! Best of all, these are easy and inexpensive changes that can save you a lot moola in vet bills down the road, so go ahead and edge forward by incorporating more play into your pet’s life (and yours too).
Enrichment and “activity therapies” can be anything that provides enhanced environmental stimuli (visual, physical, and auditory). For our pets, this means not just meeting basic needs for health, nutrition and safety, but also accommodating healthy outlets for natural behaviours, schedules your pets can rely on (especially for cats), predictable social interactions (especially for dogs), lots of play, low-stress households (especially for cats), and sensory-stimulating opportunities like food games or simple hide and seek; depending on your pet’s personality.
Easy enrichment ideas can include:
- Food toys or puzzles that encourage manipulating the toy to receive food. Many DIY ideas can be found online.
- Feeding cats kibble by kibble by throwing a piece a few feet in front of them, or down a set of stairs for your cat to “hunt and catch” it.
- Hiding food pieces around the house to simulate searching behaviour.
- Walking dogs every single day! This is the best way to provide aerobic exercise and sensory exposure; in physically debilitated animals, a pet stroller or car rides can provide some sensory experience.
- Providing safe outdoor time for cats with bungee harnesses or cat-specific fencing (ideally supervised and timed).
- Open window coverings so that cats can watch the bugs and birds (get an outdoor bird feeder and prop it up in their line of vision – do not do this for outdoor cats)
- Build up! Ensure vertical space for cats both indoors and outdoors to help foster physical activity and provide safe perches (important for multicat households).
- Training! Spend a few minutes each day trying to train your pets (yes cats can be trained too).
- Encouraging play even in older animals. Just because they’re seniors, doesn’t mean the enjoyment of play goes away! Listen to your pet’s body language to be sure not to distress senior pets, and have any medical mobility or weight issues addressed by your vet before starting any new exercise regime.
Start activity therapy and enrichment early, this will help slow cognitive decay in our seniors pets, and strengthen the human animal bond to no end, it’s a win-win!