Top 10 Reasons Your Senior Dog or Cat is Finicky

As pets age, pet feeding can become more challenging especially if your senior pet has become more finicky during meal time. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, some older pets just don’t love to eat. Pet feeding can become a real source of stress for pet parents, especially if your cat or dog was a hearty eater at one time. It can be especially concerning if your senior pet is also losing weight, or has developed other illnesses that may require eating in order to administer medications. 

There are many reasons a senior pet won’t eat, some are more serious than others, but if at any time your pet is becoming more finicky and is eating less and less, and especially if they are losing weight, they should be evaluated by a veterinarian or vet nutritionist. 

Here are the top 10 reasons a senior pet may become finicky at meal time. 

  1. Too much people food. 

Once dogs or cats have a taste of people food, they can become increasingly finicky about eating their commercial dog or cat food. Let’s face it, people food generally has more fat and flavor, both of which may not be appropriate for your senior pet, but nonetheless, just taste better. If your senior pet’s appetite is changing and people treats and table scraps have become a more regular part of your pet’s diet, it stands to reason that they may start to turn their nose up at their commercial pet food. 

One way to help is to stop feeding your pet people food and table scraps. Stick to a dog or cat food that is designed for pets. People food simply does not have the proper nutrients a dog or cat needs to flourish. For more on cat or dog foods, read our article on senior pet food. 

       2. Change in schedule

Pets are creatures of habit and rely on their pet parents to keep to a regular feeding / potty schedule. If you constantly change their routine, feeding them at different times on different days, this can cause them to become more finicky at mealtime. 

One way to help is to ensure that your pet is fed at approximately the same time of day every day. If your work schedule dictates that you feed your pet very early in the morning, try to feed your pet within an hour of that same time each day. Being a responsible pet parent means making your pet a priority. If your senior pet is more finicky and your feeding schedule is erratic, this fluctuation in his feeding schedule can be the cause. 

      3. Stress

If you recently moved, added a new member to the family, a death in the family or divorce, or a new pet has been added to the home, your senior pet may be feeling anxious about the changes. This anxiety can be causing your pet stress that can be affecting his appetite. Another consideration is distractions that cause stress at mealtime – thunderstorms, fireworks, or too much activity during mealtime may be causing your pet stress. 

One way to help is to monitor your pet closely and offer lots of love, attention and extra exercise. Exercise will help your pet feel less stressed and may also help your pet to work up an appetite. If loud noise or people are distracting your pet from eating, you may want to move your pet to an isolated/quiet area so he can focus on eating, instead of the commotion. 

      4. Stomach Upset

As pet’s age, their appetite may change because their stomach has become more sensitive to certain foods. If your pet has developed a food sensitivity, it may be time to switch his food. If stomach upset is the cause of your pet’s finickiness, talk with your vet about switching his food or introducing a medication to help ease stomach upset in pets. There are medications that can help ease stomach discomfort and help pets feel better. 

If your vet recommends switching your pet’s food, read our article on pet food for senior pets.

     5. Illness or injury

If your pet is not eating, it is important that a vet evaluate your pet for an underlying illness. If your pet has had a recent injury or illness has been diagnosed, it can affect his appetite. A pet who doesn’t eat great for a few days may not be a great concern especially if there is a specific cause. However, if your pet goes more than a day or two without eating, then it is important to have him seen by the vet again. 

Vet’s can help by taking xrays and blood work to determine other reasons why your pet may not want to eat. Your vet can also prescribe an appetite stimulant if no other cause has been identified. If it turns out that an injury is the cause, and pain is the issue, then a pain reliever may help ease your pet’s discomfort to where he enjoys eating again. If an illness is the culprit, medication to help treat the illness may help alleviate symptoms and help your pet feel better.  

      6. Medication

If your pet is ill and taking medication, some medications can cause stomach upset and also cause a pet not to want to eat. If you recently introduced a new medication and your pet is refusing to eat, talk with your vet about alternatives. Oftentimes there are other comparable medications that won’t have stomach upset as a side effect. 

If the medication is causing the stomach upset, then switching the medication may help. If there are no alternatives, then your vet may prescribe an appetite stimulant to help get your pet to eat. 

      7. Bored

Sometimes pets get bored with their food, especially if they’ve had a taste of people food, and would prefer your t-bone steak instead of their dry kibble. Sometimes changing their food, or even just warming their food, or topping their traditional kibble with wet food or broth can change things up enough to encourage your finicky pet to eat more regularly. 

Read our article on feeding a finicky pet for more information on switching your pet’s food.

      8. Bad Teeth 

As pet’s age, they may have issues with their teeth which may cause discomfort chewing food. Your vet should assess your pet’s teeth to ensure there are no issues that may be causing your pet to shun their food. 

Some older pets do better having the problematic teeth extracted, after which they should resume their normal feeding schedule and start eating again.

      9. Too much food

As pet’s age, they often do not require the same amount of food as they once did. Many pet parents overfeed their pets to begin with, which can often cause them to become overweight. Especially if you feed your pet treats throughout the day, they may become full more easily and just not be that ravenous at meal time. If you are feeding them more than they need, they may just pick at their food or not eat at all. 

One way to help is to limit treats throughout the day, exercise your pet often, and feed the appropriate amount of food based on your pet’s ideal weight. It is recommended that a dog should be fed approximately 1/3 cup for every 10 pounds over 100 pounds of body weight. It is recommended that most dogs be fed their daily allotment over two meals per day; once in the morning and once at night. 

dog food feeding chart

For cats it is recommended that a cat get between a half a cup and 3/4 cup for a 15 pound cat. Cats should also be fed 2 times per day, once in the morning and once at night. A larger cat may require more food and more feeding per day. 

 

cat feeding chart

 

      10. The pet feeding dish

Believe it or not, sometimes the feeding dish can be the issue. Many dogs and cats prefer to eat off the floor because they don’t like being obstructed by a traditional dog or cat bowl. A flat pet dish can often help a finicky pet because it changes the presentation of the food. Another consideration is an elevated food bowl. Some senior pets experience pain when stooping over to eat. An elevated bowl can often help older pets who have joint pain and discomfort while eating. 

Read more about feeding a finicky pet. 

Elderly Pet Safety in Cold Weather

Cold weather can pose serious threats to pet health. Pet’s cold tolerance for cold weather can vary from pet to pet based on their coat, body fat stores, activity level and health. 

You will probably need to shorten your dog’s walks in very cold weather to protect you both from weather-associated health risks. Arthritic and elderly pets may have more difficulty walking on snow and ice and may be more prone to slipping and falling. Long-haired or thick-coated dogs tend to be more cold-tolerant, but are still at risk in cold weather. Short-haired pets feel the cold faster because they have less protection, and short-legged pets may become cold faster because their bellies and bodies are more likely to come into contact with snow-covered ground. Pets with diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or hormonal imbalances (such as Cushing’s disease) may have a harder time regulating their body temperature, and may be more susceptible to problems from temperature extremes. The same goes for very young and very old pets. If you need help determining your pet’s temperature limits, consult your veterinarian.

Cats and dogs should be kept inside during cold weather. It’s a common belief that dogs and cats are more resistant than people to cold weather because of their fur, but it’s untrue. Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia and should be kept inside. Longer-haired and thick-coated dog breeds, such as huskies and other dogs bred for colder climates, are more tolerant of cold weather; but no pet should be left outside for long periods in below-freezing weather.

Check your dog’s paws frequently for signs of cold-weather injury or damage, such as cracked paw pads or bleeding. During a walk, a sudden lameness may be due to an injury or may be due to ice accumulation between his/her toes. You may be able to reduce the chance of iceball accumulation by clipping the hair between your dog’s toes.

If your dog has a short coat or seems bothered by the cold weather, consider a sweater or dog coat. Have several on hand, so you can use a dry sweater or coat each time your dog goes outside. Wet sweaters or coats can actually make your dog colder. Some pet owners also use booties to protect their dog’s feet; if you choose to use them, make sure they fit properly.

During walks, your dog’s feet, legs and belly may pick up deicers, antifreeze, or other chemicals that could be toxic. When you get back inside, wipe down (or wash) your pet’s feet, legs and belly to remove these chemicals and reduce the risk that your dog will be poisoned after (s)he licks them off of his/her feet or fur. Consider using pet-safe deicers on your property to protect your pets and the others in your neighborhood.

Hot cars are a known threat to pets, but cold cars also pose significant risk to your pet’s health. You’re already familiar with how a car can rapidly cool down in cold weather; it becomes like a refrigerator, and can rapidly chill your pet. Pets that are young, old, ill, or thin are particularly susceptible to cold environments and should never be left in cold cars. Limit car travel to only that which is necessary, and don’t leave your pet unattended in the vehicle.

Odds are your pet will be spending more time inside during the winter, so it’s a good time to make sure your house is properly pet-proofed. Use space heaters with caution around pets, because they can burn or they can be knocked over, potentially starting a fire. Check your furnace before the cold weather sets in to make sure it’s working efficiently, and install carbon monoxide detectors to keep your entire family safe from harm. If you have a pet bird, make sure its cage is away from drafts.

We don’t recommend keeping any pet outside for long periods of time, but if you are unable to keep your dog inside during cold weather, provide him/her with a warm, solid shelter against wind. Make sure that they have unlimited access to fresh, non-frozen water (by changing the water frequently or using a pet-safe, heated water bowl). The floor of the shelter should be off of the ground (to minimize heat loss into the ground) and the bedding should be thick, dry and changed regularly to provide a warm, dry environment. The door to the shelter should be positioned away from prevailing winds. Space heaters and heat lamps should be avoided because of the risk of burns or fire. Heated pet mats should also be used with caution because they are still capable of causing burns.

 If your pet is whining, shivering, seems anxious, slows down or stops moving, seems weak, or starts looking for warm places to burrow, get them back inside quickly because they are showing signs of hypothermia. Frostbite is harder to detect, and may not be fully recognized until a few days after the damage is done. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia or frostbite, consult your veterinarian immediately.

Cold weather also brings the risks of severe winter weather, blizzards and power outages. Prepare a disaster/emergency kit, and include your pet in your plans. Have enough food, water and medicine (including any prescription medications as well as heartworm and flea/tick preventives) on hand to get through at least 5 days.

Keep your pet at a healthy weight throughout the winter. Some pet owners feel that a little extra weight gives their pet some extra protection from cold, but the health risks associated with that extra weight don’t make it worth doing. Watch your pet’s body condition and keep them in the healthy range. Outdoor pets will require more calories in the winter to generate enough body heat and energy to keep them warm – talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s nutritional needs during cold weather.

Below are some ideas of products that may help your senior pet in cold weather. We do not endorse or promote any of these products or companies. Products are listed for demonstration purposes only based on available information at the time of publication. You should always consult your vet to determine what is most appropriate for your pet. 

 

Even furry dogs tend to lose their fur as they age and the winter months can be especially difficult for senior pets. A winter coat or jacket can help keep your senior pet warm when outdoors. 

Older cats are more susceptible to chills in colder weather and a sweater can help keep them warmer when outside, especially during the colder months. 

Dog booties or boots can keep your senior pet’s feet from getting wet and cold during colder months. Some also feature a non-skid bottom which can help keep older pets from sliding around, as they often do. 

Some older dogs live outdoors, or spend a lot of time outdoors and it is important they stay as hydrated as possible – with plenty of cool, clean, fresh water. Water bowls that stay outside tend to freeze over and a heated water bowl can ensure that your senior pet always has access to his water. 

As pets age they can chill more easily in cold weather. A heated cat house can help keep your outdoor cat comfortable in even the coldest weather. 

Some older dogs love to stay outside, and for some pet owners it is practical for them as well. Older dogs tend to chill more than younger dogs, so it is important that their home is warm and comfortable. A heated dog house can help. 

When pets go outdoors in winter, they can track in salt and sand from weather treated roads, driveways and sidewalks. Grooming wipes allow you to clean your pet’s fur and feet to ensure they don’t ingest harmful chemicals.

During winter months, many pet owners treat their sidewalks and driveway with chemicals that are harmful, and sometimes toxic to senior pets. Pet friendly ice melt is safer for pets and gentler on their paws. 

Every pet owner should always be prepared for an emergency, especially for a senior pet. No matter the time of year, it is important to be prepared and have supplies on hand to care for a sick pet, especially to communicate more effectively with your vet – such as temperature, wound care, etc. 

Elderly Pet Dental Care

Elderly pets are at higher risk for tooth decay and gum problems than younger pets. Pet parents must be especially vigilant with older pets to ensure that their teeth and gums stay healthy and strong into pet old age. 

AVMA recommends that all pets be seen by their vet at least once per year to check your pet’s teeth and gums. It is also recommended that you conduct frequent checks of your pet’s mouth to look for any issues that may present themselves. 

Call your vet if your pet exhibits any of the following warning signs of dental disease:

  • bad breath
  • broken or loose teeth
  • extra teeth or retained baby teeth
  • teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar
  • abnormal chewing, drooling, or dropping food from the mouth
  • reduced appetite or refusal to eat
  • pain in or around the mouth
  • bleeding from the mouth
  • swelling in the areas surrounding the mouth

And while most tooth or gum related illnesses can be treated oftentimes with anesthesia, older pets may be at higher risk for anesthesia dental cleanings if they have other underlying medical conditions. Therefore, prevention is the key to caring for your pet’s mouth.

Pet parents are encouraged to check their pet’s mouth monthly to ensure that their pet’s mouth is clean. Regular brushing is the single most effective thing you can do to keep your pet’s teeth healthy between dental cleanings by your vet. Even brushing just several times per week can be effective. There are a number of products available that can help you brush your pet’s teeth more effectively and there are some products that aid your pet in their brushing. Speak with your vet before purchasing dental products, treats or dental-specific diets you may consider for your pet. 

Below are some ideas on products that are available to assist you with taking care of your pet’s teeth. We do not endorse or promote any of these products or companies. Products are listed for demonstration purposes only based on available information at the time of publication. You should always consult your vet to determine what is most appropriate for your pet. 

Bathing Elderly Pets

Bathing pets as they get older can be challenging because elderly pets often have health issues or skin conditions that can make bathing them a challenge. And taking them to the groomer may be too much of an ordeal for an older pet. All pets need to be bathed from time to time, especially if their skin becomes irritated easily or if they suffer from allergies. Following are some tips to keep in mind before you attempt to bath an elderly pet.

What you will need:

  • Wash basin or tub
  • Two to three towels depending on the size of your pet
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Cotton balls
  • Blow dryer
  • Brush and comb
  • Large paper or plastic cup
  • Helper for large pets or arthritic pets who may need assistance getting in and out of the tub

Preparing the wash area

Fill a sturdy wash basin or tub that is large enough for your pet – be sure the water is not too hot or too cold. Use the back of your wrist or your elbow to test the temperature. Fill the basin part way.

Place a dry towel on the floor and place one to two towels within arms reach to dry your pet.

Plug in a blow dryer far enough away from the wash area, but nearby so that you can reach your pet after the bath is complete.

Gather your shampoo, conditioner, brush, comb, plastic cup, and cotton balls.

 

Preparing your pet

Make sure that you remove your pet’s collar and anything else that should not get wet.

Escort or carry your pet over to the wash basin and gently lower him into the basin. Place one cotton ball in each ear to prevent water from getting in his ears.

Using the cup or the shower head, rinse your pet thoroughly with warm water. Be sure to test the water before you begin. Then shampoo your pet from head to toe. Elderly pets should use very mild shampoos and conditioners that are hypo allergenic. Their skin tends to be thinner and more sensitive so mild shampoos are recommended.

Completely rinse your pet with warm water and ensure that you get under his stomach and under his tail. When washing and rinsing his face, put his head back and block his nose from getting water in it.

Comb out any areas that are matted or where discharge may collect, especially around the eyes and rinse thoroughly; but be sure to be extremely careful and do not pull but rather gently come out the matted areas. If necessary, leave them and trim them later with a scissor.

 

Drying your pet

Take one or two towels and dry your pet as best you can being sure to rub gently and avoiding any warts or skin irritations. Gently pat his face area. Remove the cotton balls from his ears. Be sure to dry his ears with the towel and dry the outside and inside of his ears to ensure that water doesn’t collect in the ear canal and cause bacteria to grow.

Blow dry your pet with the blow dryer on the coolest setting and do not leave the blow dryer in one area for too long. Move the blow dryer with sweeping motions back and forth until the area is dry. Place your hand between the blow dryer and your pet to ensure that the blow dryer does not get too hot. Brush your pet once he is dry to ensure that all areas are dry.

Be sure to completely dry the floor with one of the towels before you and your pet exit the area to ensure that no one slips or falls.

Treat your pet to a special bone or cookie to reward him for being such a cooperative pet. Treats can be used for positive reinforcement and even an older pet will endure bath time if they know they will be rewarded with a treat.

 

Precautions

Some articles recommend applying tea tree oil after a bath to help soothe skin irritations. This is not recommended because tea tree oil can be toxic to pets and should be avoided. Instead, if your pet doesn’t smell clean and fresh or has some minor skin irritations, speak with your vet about oral medications that can help soothe them. There are other over the counter products that are not toxic that can also be used.

Below are some useful items that may assist you when bathing senior pets. We do not endorse or promote any of these products or companies. Products are listed for demonstration purposes only based on available information at the time of publication. You should always consult your vet to determine what is most appropriate for your dog. 

This shampoo is natural anti itch oatmeal shampoo for dogs and cats; hypoallergenic soothing relief for dry, itchy, bitten or allergy damaged skin, hot spot treatment, vet and pet approved. 

This pet brush is double sided with bamboo handle for long or short hairs; removes shedding, tangles and dirt. 

A pet comb removes tangles, knots, loose fur and dirt. Ideal for everyday use. 

A portable wash basin is suitable for small to medium sized pets and should be portable and foldable. Perfect for cats, dogs or other small pets.

Waterless pet shampoo is great for keeping your senior pet fresh in between baths. Not all pets love a bath, so a waterless option is great for in between. 

Pet nail clippers allow you to keep your senior pet’s nails short so they don’t slide all over the floors. Use caution when trimming senior pet nails and be sure not to trim them too short. 

It’s a good idea to trim your pet’s fur once in a while so that fur doesn’t get in his eyes or the fur between his toes doesn’t get too long. Either of which can cause issues for your senior pet. 

How to Keep Senior Pets Safe

Keeping pets safe at home or while traveling can be challenging especially as pets age. A large dog is considered a senior dog at age 5-6 years of age, and smaller dogs and cats are considered seniors at age 7. As pets age, they can develop arthritis or joint injuries that make once ordinary tasks difficult and painful for elderly pets. Other pets can develop cognitive dysfunction or dementia, making it difficult for them to do things they once could. Senior pets often need more safety precautions in place to ensure they do not injure themselves or worse. 

For example, a dog or cat that could once jump on the bed, for instance, may require assistance to get up on higher surfaces. Pet stairs are one solution that can not only keep pets safe at home, but can help keep pet parents safe as well – avoiding unnecessary injuries lifting pets. There are a variety of pet products designed to help elderly pets who may have difficulties walking, jumping or performing everyday tasks that they could when they were younger.

If you have an older pet that is having difficulties with jumping, walking or no notice that your senior pet is having difficulty with everyday activities that they could do at one time, it is important to consult your vet to rule out any serious issues. If the vet determines that it is a manageable condition that may need an assistive device to help your pet get through the day more easily, then there are a number of products that can be used to assist your pet. 

We do not endorse or promote any of these products or companies. Products are listed for demonstration purposes only based on available information at the time of publication. You should always consult your vet to determine what is most appropriate for your pet. 

A pet gate can help keep your pet confined to a restricted area of your home, especially during the day when you may be out of the home at work or running errands. A pet gate can keep your pet safe and secure in a specific area of your home. 

A pet ramp is a convenient way for pets to get onto furniture or beds. If your furry friend is accustomed to sleeping on the bed, but they are in need of assistance, a pet ramp can help them get situated without jumping and risking injury. 

Some pets have difficulty as they age with bending over to reach their meal. Meal time can be very frustrating for an older pet who is in pain when hunched over too far. An elevated pet feeding dish can help alleviate some of that discomfort. 

Similar to ramps, pet stairs can help an older pet climb onto furniture or bedding. If your older pet is having difficulty getting onto their comfortable piece of furniture, pet stairs may be a solution to aid them in their quest. 

A pet lift can save your back if you are dealing with a pet that has difficulty standing or getting into the car or on the couch. There are many types of lifts including full body lifts, sling lifts or lifts that lift only the front or rear legs. 

As pets age, they may have difficulty keeping up on long walks. A pet carrier can help your pet enjoy the outdoors and the journey, without exhausting himself physically. Pet carriers are typically used for smaller pets. 

A cat or dog who typically enjoys the outdoors, may become adverse to outdoor temperature fluctuations as they get older. A pet door can allow you pet the freedom to come indoors when they need to. 

Older pets may develop cognitive dysfunction which can cause impaired thinking. Senior pets may have difficulty staying in their yard without some sort of confinement. Pet fences help keep pets contained to a confined area. 

A wireless fence is similar to a physical fence in that it can help keep your pet from wandering off, especially if they develop dementia or other cognitive illnesses. They work by providing a shock around the perimeter of the yard. 

A tracker, would enable you to locate your pet anytime, anywhere. Using the app on your smartphone, you can see the exact location of your dog or cat. A tracker will allow you to track your pet wherever they are, and especially if they wander off. 

A pet camera can allow you to keep an eye on your furry friend when you cannot be home. Some offer treat dispensers or can allow two way communication so you can talk to your pet from outside your home. 

Similar to a carrier, a stroller can allow your pet to tag along outside without exhausting your senior pet. Strollers can be used for larger pets or multiple pets. 

A pet booster seat can help keep your pet secured while driving in a vehicle. It restrains your pet and keep your pet from disturbing you while driving. Many have a tether or harness to prevent your pet from jumping out. 

A seat belt can restrain your dog from distracting you while driving. The seat belt buckles into a regular seat belt clip and attaches the other end to your dog’s harness. 

Pet ID tags are very important for senior pets who may wander off and get lost. It is more common for senior pets to wander off than younger pets, so an ID tag can provide important details if your cat or dog is lost, and found by someone who needs to contact you. 

Lyme disease and other tick born illnesses can be deadly to senior pets. Flea and tick prevention should be applied to any pet that goes outdoors, even in winter months.