7 tips for taking care of your retired pets

As you approach retirement, many changes in your life will likely affect your pets and the way you care for them. After 28 years as a practicing veterinarian, I’m transitioning to part-time work and starting a new career as a travel writer. I am going through many changes and I have many clients who are at retirement age. As we age, our relationships with our pets change as we spend less time at work, but more time traveling and enjoying our hobbies. Here are some considerations for these times in your life.

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1. Choose a pet that suits your lifestyle

As a youngster with a family, you may have chosen a dog or a cat to let off steam with the kids. If you’ve worked long hours, you may have chosen a pet that’s content to be home alone all day.

As you approach retirement, you need to think about what type of animal will complement your daily activities. Do you want an active dog to accompany you on hikes or a calm little dog that you can take to the shops? Do you want a mischievous cat for fun or a cat that likes to sleep on your lap while you read or write your memoirs? Prefer a fish or snake that’s nice to look at but doesn’t require daily interaction?

Consider the daily and annual costs you will need to cover and how much you can afford with your retirement income. Talk to your veterinarian about any veterinary care that will be needed. Some purebred animals are more prone to certain problems. Pets that roam outdoors or are very active are more likely to get injured. Larger animals will cost more to feed. Multiple pets will mean increased costs for food, bedding, toys, and veterinary care.

Portrait of an older chiweenie, sitting and looking up.
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2. Learn about the unique needs of older pets

As you age, all the animals you have cared for also age. If you’re adopting a new pet, you may not want to train a puppy or deal with the mischievous energy of a kitten. When you adopt an adult animal, you have full knowledge of its size and temperament. You can also ensure a good home and comfortable last years for an older dog or cat by choosing to adopt it.

Your pet’s body will change with age, but with careful attention and good care, you can help them live longer, happier lives. Arthritis is very common and can start around the age of 10 in cats and small dogs, and even younger in large dogs. Watch for movement changes or reduced levels of play. Dental disease causes pain and infection that spreads throughout the body and requires regular care from your veterinarian. The anesthesia needed for dental cleanings has become very safe, even for older animals (if the right precautions are taken).

Many diseases, such as kidney disease, diabetes, and heart disease, become much more common as pets age. A veterinary exam, blood work, and other tests are needed every 6 to 12 months or so. By detecting medical issues earlier, veterinary care will be easier and less expensive, and your pet will suffer less discomfort. Since pets cannot tell us when something is wrong, your veterinary team plays an important role in detecting and treating changes. Your pet may need a change in diet, treats or activity levels which your veterinarian can advise you on.

French bulldog dog and veterinary doctor at veterinary clinic.
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3. Find the right veterinary team for your changing needs

As your lifestyle changes, you may need to find a veterinary clinic with different hours or accessibility. Find a veterinary team that is willing to partner with you in a way that works for you. You may prefer a mobile vet who will come to your home to provide care. Always be polite and considerate, but ask for what you need. If you have been a client for many years, let the clinic know about changes in your lifestyle and needs.

Getting pet insurance can help reduce cost surprises down the road. Insurance won’t cover pre-existing conditions, so buy it as soon as you can. You can choose from many options depending on what you want to cover.

Elderly woman holding a small striped kitten, a kitten in a woman's arms.
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4. Improve your health by taking care of your pets

Caring for a pet can go a long way in slowing down the effects of aging on our mental and physical health. The National Institutes of Health presents helpful information in its monthly newsletter. Studies show that interacting with pets lowers your stress hormones and blood pressure. Pets give us a sense of support and reduce loneliness, which improves our mood and overall level of happiness. Different types of therapy animals help people with physical and mental health issues.

Daily pet care can sometimes seem like a burden, but it has benefits for your mental and physical health. It lets you stick to a schedule and exercise your brain while you plan your pets’ care. Walking your dog or playing with your cat keeps you physically active. Pets also provide a way to meet people and provide conversation starters in social settings. Who doesn’t want to see pictures of other people’s pets and comment on their interesting names?

A volunteer brings a therapy dog ​​to the hospital.
A volunteer brings in a therapy dog ​​(Photo credit: Monkey Business Imagesv / Shutterstock.com)

5. Volunteer with animals

Volunteering with animals is a wonderful way to interact with people and gives a sense of contribution to your life. You can volunteer with your pet at medical facilities or senior living facilities and improve the day of someone in need. You can also volunteer at an animal shelter or rescue organization and spend your time with other people who also love animals. You will improve the lives of animals and help families who adopt the perfect animal.

Elderly woman carrying a small dog in a colorful bag around her chest.
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6. Travel with your retired pet

Now that you’ve retired or reduced your working hours, you probably want to start traveling more. Having your furry companion with you can add to your enjoyment or increase your stress. Plan well in advance to bring them with you or find the right care for them at home.

The type of travel you do will determine how it will affect your pets. Dogs and cats that enjoy interacting with people they may not know and adapt easily to change are likely to be good candidates to accompany you on your travels. If your pets are easily stressed by disruptions to their routines and fearful of strangers, life on the road is probably not for them.

If you’re planning car trips, consider the length of the trip and your dog’s or cat’s tolerance for car travel. If you’re flying, think about your pet’s travel conditions and whether it’s worth the stress of the experience. Make an appointment with your veterinarian to assess your pet’s health and any special needs before you leave. Discuss whether a sedative or anti-nausea medication will be needed. Make sure your pet has proper identification, such as a microchip, if they become separated from you at any time during your trip. It’s also a good idea to research emergency clinics at your destination so you have someone to call if something goes wrong.

Large and small dogs in a pet boarding house.
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7. Find good care for your pet at home so you can travel worry-free

Many options exist for leaving your pet at home during your trip. Your decision may be influenced by the length of your absence. If you are traveling for a long time, it may be best to find a family member or friend who can accommodate them in their home. If they have pets themselves, make sure your pet gets on well with them or that there is room in the house for their own separate space. Bring their food, treats, dishes, and beds to minimize disruption to their routine.

For shorter journeys, you can board your pet at a veterinary clinic or boarding house or have a caretaker come to your home. Ask friends, family and your veterinary team for recommendations. Make sure your pet’s caregiver follows your pet’s routine as closely as possible regarding food, medication, and outings. Provide instructions on what to do if there are changes in your pet’s health. Leave your contact information to yourself and someone else you trust to make decisions about your pet. Many boarding houses will send you photos so you can see how your pet is doing.

Retirement brings many changes to your life, and it can help to intentionally plan what kind of pets to have and how to fit them into your lifestyle. Pets can keep you physically and mentally fit and will be a wonderful companion during these years.

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