There’s something special about senior pets. They share your home and steal your heart from the minute they cross the threshold, whether they’ve been with you since they were youngsters or they found your home in their golden years.
Age itself is not a disease—sure, your older pet may take more naps, and he may not be your running partner anymore, but his age should not stop him from enjoying life. However, as pets age, certain medical conditions become more likely. We commonly see senior and geriatric pets with perfect—or nearly perfect—bills of health, but you should know the medical conditions seen more frequently in senior pets so you can keep an eye out for early signs.
Most pets are considered seniors at 7 years of age, although there are variations depending on breed and size; for example, large- and giant-breed dogs have shorter lifespans and reach senior citizen status a year or two earlier. We advise all owners to ensure their senior pets are examined twice a year to allow us to catch health changes early. Allowing a whole year to pass between medical exams for pets would be like a human going five to eight years without medical care—a lot of medical changes can happen in that time.
Common health concerns in senior pets
Some medical conditions are more likely in senior pets, whether they bark or purr. We’ll be on the lookout for the following signs at your pet’s semi-annual exam:
- Change in weight
- Change in appetite
- Change in water intake or urine output
- Joint pain
- Mental acuity
Arthritis is a common diagnosis in both older dogs and cats, and while tell-tale signs, such as limping, can occur, arthritis signs in many pets, especially cats, are subtle, and easily missed. Arthritis signs include:
- Rising slowly, especially after a nap
- Hesitancy before jumping onto the bed, couch, or counter
- Exercise intolerance
- Increased panting
- Withdrawing from family life
- Urinating or defecating outside of the litter box, especially if the litter box has tall sides, or is located upstairs
- Increased agitation or aggression
Imagine if you never brushed your teeth or went to the dentist for a cleaning—you’d probably have a painful and dirty mouth full of cavities. For many pets, this is the reality. Without daily tooth brushing, plaque accumulates on their teeth, causing gingivitis and periodontal disease, which leads to oral pain, tooth loss, and bad breath. Sadly, more than 80% of pets have dental disease by the time they are 3 years of age. Dental disease can be a source of chronic pain and inflammation, which can affect appetite. Many owners report that once their senior dog or cat’s teeth were cleaned and their dental health addressed, they acted like puppies or kittens again.
As pets age, they tend to exercise less, and they become overweight or obese because they are no longer burning calories. Obesity makes some medical conditions worse, and contributes to the development of others. Overweight pets likely have more joint pain, and may be more susceptible to developing cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Semi-annual exams allow us to keep an eye on your pet’s weight and discuss diet options as soon as we see him gaining pounds.
Pets, like people, can suffer from cognitive decline as they age. If your pet’s behavior changes cannot be attributed to physical medical conditions, such as arthritis or kidney failure, we will consider the possibility of cognitive dysfunction. Some signs may include:
- Barking or meowing at abnormal times
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Increased nighttime activity
- Disorientation, or being lost in a familiar place
- Repetitive motions
- Getting “stuck” (e.g., in a corner, or under a table)
- Increased anxiety, which, in dogs, is often accompanied by panting
Aging can bring many challenges to your pet, which can be hard for loving pet owners to watch. Growing old gracefully is the goal, however, and we are here to help your senior pet do just that. Our mission is to ensure that your senior pet’s life is happy, healthy, and pain-free. Give us a call to schedule your senior pet’s appointment.