Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Caring for a Senior Pet

By Langley Cornwell

Everyone who shares their life with a dog or a cat wishes their pet would live longer. Even so, with advances in veterinary medicine companion animals are living longer than ever before. This increased lifespan is a wonderful thing, but because pets are living longer they can become afflicted with certain ailments that younger pets are not susceptible to. It’s the same thing we humans face; as we age, our bodies and minds change. Advancing into our golden years will mean a different type of medical attention for most of us. Your pet will need a different type of medical attention as well.

For your pets, aging may bring on osteoarthritis, mobility changes, weight gain, heart, kidney, and liver disease, benign or cancerous tumors, hormonal conditions such as thyroid imbalance and diabetes, and other things. Because of these possibilities, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends that you prepare to modify some of the activities you currently enjoy doing with your pets. As your senior  pet starts to slow down, you have to adapt. Also, it will be necessary to work with your veterinarian to stay on top of your pet’s changing conditions and adjust their lifestyle to accommodate the aging process.

When does ‘old age’ start?

For dogs, small breeds usually live longer than large breeds, and cats generally live longer than dogs. Some dogs are considered middle to senior aged when they reach around 7 years of age. And some cats are considered middle to senior aged when they reach about 10 years of age. It really varies with each individual animal.

How will I know my pet is approaching ‘senior’ status, and what should I do about it?

Physical changes: As your pet’s body ages, physical changes will naturally occur. Some of the changes are easy enough to deal with, but a common problem that’s difficult to manage is inappropriate urinating. With both cats and dogs, the kidneys are one of the most common organs to lose function. As well trained as your pet may be, they may not be able to control where or when they eliminate as they get older. Do not scold your pet, but take notice and call your vet immediately. Incontinence or excessive urination can indicate diabetes and/or kidney failure, and both of these conditions are treatable with early detection.

Sensory and cognitive changes: You will likely notice that your pet ‘slows down’ as they age. This slowing happens because their major senses (sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch) dull with age. And as their senses dull, your pet will react slower to external stimuli. Additionally, senior pets gradually lose mental sharpness. As with humans, they become forgetful or show other signs of age-related cognitive changes. Sometimes this slowing down is so gradual that you don’t even notice. An excellent remedy to your pet’s sensory and cognitive decrease is to keep them active and stimulated. Play with them, teach them new tricks and games, and challenge them to continue learning. At this time, regular senior-pet veterinarian check-ups can help catch and treat these issues before they become advanced.

As my dog slows down, does she still need to exercise?

It’s important to keep your aging pet moving; exercise is an essential part of preventive senior care. If your older pet is allowed to become inactive, their body will deteriorate more quickly. This advice doesn’t apply to pets that have arthritis or are otherwise debilitated. But for elder animals that don’t fall into that category, keep them as mentally and physically active as possible. 

How important is nutrition for my older pet?

Proper nutrition is essential at every age, but even more so for older pets. As your pet matures, their natural activity level decreases, which often leads to obesity. If their nutritional needs are not being met, they may eat more food than necessary. This extra consumption leads to more weight gain, and so the cycle goes. Obesity causes a myriad of problems for senior pets and should be avoided. Furthermore, pets with nutritional deficiencies suffer a variety of physical and behavioral problems, and age can exacerbate these problems. It’s vital to choose a pet food that is wholesome, balanced and nutritious. CANIDAE Natural Pet Food is an ideal choice.    

What else can I do to give my pet a good quality of life?

The AAHA recommends working with your veterinarian to develop a plan that identifies, prevents, and minimizes pain in senior dogs and cats. The ultimate responsibility is yours, because your pet cannot tell you if they are in pain. Monitor your senior pet closely and watch for signs of discomfort or struggle. If you notice anything unusual, talk it over with your vet immediately.

With compassion and professional assistance, you can help your pet live a happy, long and comfortable life.

Dog photo by Nancy O.
Cat photo by Mr. eNil

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell


  1. Great post again. Phantom says he is NOT a senior, but at 13 + mom says he IS. Most people find it hard to believe that he is that old but we think we are getting the best of care from our humans. That time will come, but for now, let's enjoy life!

  2. That is some great info. I have a senior dog right now and really need to take her to the vet. Thanks for this great info.

  3. Very good and helpful info, as always. Thanks. I suspect it will me me that needs attention at the vet before Austin lol

  4. Absolutely a great post!!! One of our two senior dogs turned 15 in January. She is a bit slower at times but we exercise her regularly and ensure a good diet.

  5. We have a 17 year old Italian Greyhound. Every day is a blessing. Working with your vet is key to success with older animals. She's lost some hearing and some eyesight. She has arthritis, but she still manages to do the stairs and keeps the other dogs in line. Thankful that we have a vet that works with us to keep her healthy and going day after day.

  6. Great article, as always, Langley. It's hard for us to watch our senior Sammy age and slow down, but we try to do many of the things you've mentioned to make him as comfortable and healthy as possible.

  7. This is a great post. It is so sad to see our pets age.

    I just learned about "Kitty Dementia". I didn't know there was such a thing. This post helps remind us of some of the things that might happen. Thank you!


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