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Senior Pets: Caring for Our Aging Dogs and Cats

Everyone is getting older…including our pets. In the United States , it’s estimated that more than 18 million dogs and 22 million cats are considered “senior citizens.”

What’s considered “old” for a pet? Generally, a dog or cat older than seven years is considered middle-aged because our pets age seven times faster than we do. In other words, an eight-year-old cat would be 56 years old in “people years.” That’s why we might not easily notice our pet is beginning to show the signs of growing older.

Common ailments affecting older pets include arthritis, cancer, diabetes, kidney and liver diseases, and thyroid problems.

Unfortunately, our pets can’t tell us if their limbs are aching, their teeth are hurting, or their appetite is waning because they just don’t feel well. That’s why veterinarians strongly recommend that “senior” pets get twice-a-year checkups to detect any problems before they become serious. Early detection is the easiest way to treat canine or feline ailments and diseases.

Pet owners now have access to medical procedures for their animals that were once available only to humans: hip replacements, pacemakers, organ transplants, and chemotherapy. And there are more veterinarians specializing in the areas of oncology, ophthalmology, cardiology, neurology, and other specialties.

In addition to seeing a veterinarian for a twice-annual “senior exam,” there are other ways to ease your aging pet’s lifestyle:

  • If your pet is arthritic, install a safety gate across stairways to spare aching joints. Also, elevate food and water bowls so your pet doesn’t have to bend down to eat or drink.
  • Mop up any spills around feeding bowls so pets won’t slip and fall.
  • Consider switching to “senior” foods to ensure your pet receives balanced nutrition without extra calories. (If your pet is on a specialty diet, consult your veterinarian before making a switch.)
  • When brushing and grooming your senior pet, check for lumps, sores, parasites, and ear discharges.
  • Keep up to date on your pet’s vaccinations, since older pets may be more susceptible to disease.
  • Provide routine dental care to avoid gingivitis and loss of teeth.
  • Pay attention to any indications of potential medical conditions—weight loss, change in urination, increased stiffness, trembling or shaking, sleep pattern disruption, and changes in skin or haircoat.

You know your pet best. If you spot any signs of pain or behavioral changes, contact your veterinarian for advice.