Similar to human medicine, advances in veterinary medicine have resulted in pets living longer, healthier lives. Regular veterinary visits and preventive care are key elements to ensure your pets survive and thrive well into their grey muzzle years. While they are never with us long enough, caring for a senior pet is a special and rewarding experience.

Although age is not a disease, you should look for many age-related changes in your pet as they advance in years. Here are some common questions and treatment options when caring for your senior pet. 

How do I know when my pet is a senior?

Cats and small dogs are generally considered seniors at around 7 years. Large-breed dogs tend to have shorter life-spans, and begin approaching their golden years by 5 to 7 years of age. Once pets reach these ages, you may start to notice some changes, including:

  • Greying and thinning fur coat
  • Decreased vision and hearing loss
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Decreased energy or activity level
  • Changes in appetite or thirst
  • Decreased grooming

What are age-related diseases in pets?

While spotting the obvious changes on the outside of your pet, such as a greying muzzle, is not hard, recognizing when their internal organ function is decreasing is more challenging. Animals can often mask clinical illness or disease signs until the condition has advanced. The following is a brief summary of common age-related diseases of dogs and cats:

  • Cancer (i.e., neoplasia) — One in four dogs will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, while cats have a much lower incidence. Clinical signs vary depending on the cancer location. Tip—check for lumps and bumps daily when cuddling with your pet.
  • Heart disease — Common signs include coughing, difficulty breathing, exercise intolerance, increased respiratory rate, and pacing before bed time.
  • Kidney disease — Geriatric cats are especially at risk for kidney disease. According to the International Renal Interest Society (IRIS), geriatric cats have an 80% prevalence of kidney or renal disease. Clinical signs include increased thirst and urination, as well as weight loss.
  • Liver disease — Clinical signs can include loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, fever, and yellowing of the skin.
  • Diabetes — Maintaining a healthy weight is key to prevent acquired diabetes in your pet. Clinical signs include excessive thirst and increased urination.
  • Thyroid disease — Clinical signs include weight changes unrelated to diet, as well as changes in energy levels.
  • Osteoarthritis — Clinical signs include painful joints, and difficulty standing, walking, or climbing.

Yearly or more frequent exams at Belmont Veterinary Hospital will allow you the best chance of spotting and treating an age-related illness. Ensure you provide your veterinarian with your pet’s detailed behavioral history, as the most subtle changes can indicate an age-related disease. In addition, blood work is a key tool for disease diagnosis and treatment. A senior blood work panel is a comprehensive blood test to check for anemia or low red blood cell count, electrolyte levels, overall organ function, thyroid function, and infection signs. A urine test is also important to monitor for infection or kidney disease signs.   

Can my pet become senile?

Similar to senility in humans, pets—especially dogs—can experience dementia or cognitive dysfunction as they age. Brain deterioration can lead to various behavior changes that affect overall quality of life, and may require treatment. Diet changes, medications, or supplements to support brain health may be necessary. The acronym DISHAA is a great tool for monitoring your pet for cognitive dysfunctions:

  • DDisorientation, including standing in corners, staring at walls, nervousness, and pacing
  • I —  Interaction changes, increased meowing or barking, or aggressive behavior
  • SSleep/wake cycle changes
  • HHouse soiling
  • AActivity level changes
  • AAnxiety changes

What can I do to support my senior pet?

Life with your senior pet may look a little different than years past, but the golden years are filled with lots of love and cuddles. Small changes in your home can greatly impact their quality of life. The following key tools will ensure your grey muzzled friend thrives in their later years:

  • Exercise — Daily low impact exercises, such as walks or swimming, are important for joint mobility and weight control.
  • Weight control — More than 50% of U.S. pets are obese. Obesity can lead to multiple diseases, including arthritis, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders. Check this chart to see if your pet is a healthy weight.
  • Oral care — Dental disease and tooth loss is common in senior pets. It’s never too late to start brushing their teeth with a tasty pet-specific toothpaste. Dental disease not only affects a pet’s ability to eat comfortably, but also oral infections can spread to the kidneys, liver, and heart.
  • Mental health — Provide your pet with enriching toys to exercise their minds.
  • Environment — Senior pets may have difficulty climbing stairs or sitting in their favorite spot or chair because of joint degradation or weakness. Orthopedic pet beds, pet stairs, or ramps will help your furry friend maintain comfort in their favorite resting spots.  

Belmont Animal Hospital staff look forward to caring for your pet well into their golden years. Call our office if you have any questions about caring for your senior pet, or to schedule their wellness examination.