Special Needs of Senior Pets

Older pets have special health care needs and may require more attention and care than younger pets. As pets age, changes occur in their physical condition that warrants more frequent visits to the veterinarian. If medical problems are recognized and treated when they are first detected, the treatment may be easier for your pet and less costly for you. Twice-a-year wellness examinations are recommended for older dogs and cats to potentially diagnose medical problems in the early stages.

Signs of Aging in Dogs

  • Your dog’s coat and the area around his muzzle begin to turn gray. Because your pet is getting older, it is important to know that skin problems may occur more often since the skin may be thinner, less elastic, and does not repair itself as quickly.
  • Your senior dog begins to slow down, has less energy and has trouble getting up.
  • Longer and more frequent naps are common side effects of aging.
  • A change in habits, including play preferences and eating or drinking habits is commonly observed in older dogs.
  • Weight changes are common in older dogs. Some dogs gain weight as they age while others lose weight.
  • Dental problems that translate as bad breath are more likely to appear in older pets.
  • Hearing, vision and other senses become less acute when dogs get older.

Signs of Aging in Cats

  • As older cats are often less active, their muscle tone tends to reduce which may further reduce their ability to run, jump and climb. Lack of exercise contributes to the stiffening of joints.
  • Frequently older cats suffer from a poor appetite as the senses of taste and smell often deteriorate with age. Teeth problems are common and can discourage eating.
  • Bowel function may deteriorate with age, causing problems such as reduced ability to absorb food nutrients. This can lead to weight loss. Some elderly cats suffer from constipation.
  • Elderly cats have decreased thirst and they are at risk of becoming dehydrated. This is particularly dangerous in cats with kidney problems.
  • Older cats tend to sleep less soundly but more frequently.
  • Elderly cats often have poor coats that may make them less resistant to cold and damp.

General Tips for Your Aging Pet

  • Diet – There are several reasons why a special diet may be needed for your elderly pet. He or she may be less active than a younger animal and may require fewer calories. The digestive organs may become less efficient in digestion and absorption, and so a more digestible diet may be more appropriate. Under certain circumstances the vitamin and mineral needs of elderly pets may be different from those of younger animals. Some of the special senior diets have mineral and vitamin content carefully adjusted to help provide the appropriate balance for elderly pets that have failing kidney or heart function. Ask one of our veterinarians or veterinary technicians about a special diet for your senior pet.
  • Joints – As your pet ages, joint pain and stiffness may develop. This may mean that your pet becomes less active and his energy level may decrease. He may become tired more easily and want to nap more often. Dogs with arthritis should still be exercised; however, they may need a diet containing fewer calories to prevent them from putting on weight.
  • Hearing, sight and smell – These senses can all become less acute with age. Watch for signs of impaired sight such as bumping into furniture or loss of hearing if your pet stops reacting to its name or command. Cataracts, decreased night vision, or even blindness is common; they may also be symptoms of a larger problem. We can help you distinguish between the normal aging process and an acute medical problem.
  • Dental – Older pets are more likely to develop tooth and gum conditions. If your pet has sore gums or loose teeth, he or she may be reluctant to eat. Gum disease not only leads to loss of teeth, but can also cause heart and kidney infections if bacteria enter the bloodstream through inflamed gums. Examine your pet’s mouth regularly and ask a veterinarian at Westfield Animal Hospital for advice if the teeth or gums do not look healthy.
  • Urinary – Incontinence or inappropriate urination is a common issue in an aging pet. Inappropriate urination may be hormonal or the result of a urinary tract disorder, prostate disease or symptomatic of a larger problem. Call Westfield Animal Hospital if your pet suddenly becomes incontinent or begins to drink or urinate more frequently.
  • Behavior – As your pet ages, his behavior may change significantly. You might interpret this as simple aging, but it actually might be due to such treatable geriatric diseases such as cognitive dysfunction. Some typical signs include confusion, disorientation, decreased activity, changes in the sleep/wake cycle, loss of housetraining, or signs which suggest a decrease in your dog’s interest in, or ability to interact, with his environment or with you. If your senior pet is experiencing any or several of these signs, please call Westfield Animal Hospital and set up an appointment with a veterinarian.
  • Kidneys – Excessive thirst and frequent or uncontrolled urination are often signs of kidney problems or diabetes. Since the kidneys process and eliminate body waste products into the urine, it is important that these organs remain healthy. If your pet’s kidneys are not functioning properly, your veterinarian may recommend a diet or medications specially designed for kidney problems.

Even if your pet seems perfectly healthy, regular geriatric check-ups are important to manage many of the changes associated with aging. Dogs and cats over seven years of age should be examined by a veterinarian at Westfield Animal Hospital twice a year. Pets are the most rewarding when they reach middle or old age; they know you, have an established routine, and have spent years as your companion. With a combination of your loving care and our recommendations, your aging pet can provide you with many more years of love and companionship.