fetch! blog

older and wiser: how senior pets are different

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Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on Aug 13 2014

Now for some sad news…it seems that just weeks after being declared the oldest cat in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records, 24 year old Poppy died at the beginning of the summer. Poppy lived her extraordinarily long life in Bournemouth, England, where she ruled the roost before she moved on to the Rainbow Bridge.

Can you imagine having a pet for 24 years? Very few people are lucky enough to experience this, but as modern veterinary medicine progresses, we can expect our pets to live longer, fuller lives.

Senior pets have special needs as they age—read on to find out how they are different.

Common conditions

As signs of aging are occurring to our pet’s appearance (grey muzzle, anyone?), changes are also occurring inside of our pets’ bodies. Major organs are slowing down, and heart, liver and kidney disease are common in older pets. Arthritis (joint pain) is common in older dogs AND cats. Cancer is, too. About 50% of deaths in pets over 10 years old are from cancer.

Sights and sounds

Declines in both hearing and eyesight are common aging changes. Teaching your pet hand signals can help in the case of hearing loss, and pets adapt remarkably well to vision changes. Even pets who are totally blind fare quite well!

Behavior changes

This is a big one. Your geriatric pet may suffer from cognitive dysfunction, becoming easily confused or even getting “lost” in her own home. Changes in sleeping habits are common—from sleeping more to restlessness to pacing at night. Anything goes.

Painful pets are prone to snapping or biting, so even the sweetest soul should be handled gently, especially if arthritis is causing joint pain. Cognitive dysfunction can also contribute to aggression in older pets.

Increased vocalization is common—from howling to barking to incessant meowing, you can expect your pet to become more talkative as he ages, especially if his hearing starts to go. Unfortunately, these behaviors often occur in the overnight hours, leading to a change in your sleeping habits, too!

Accidents in the house are to be expected—your old dog or cat isn’t necessarily losing her potty training skills, it’s just that she can’t get to the door or litter box quickly enough in her old age. Do not punish her for it.

A weighty issue

Obesity is common as pets age. Being overweight only contributes to arthritis pain and makes older pets more at risk for other diseases. Keep your geriatric pet at a healthy weight by feeding an appropriate amount of a healthy, balanced diet, avoiding snacks and encouraging exercise.

Caring for an older pet isn’t always easy, especially when you’re cleaning a mess from the carpet. Accept these changes as a part of your pet’s life, and be grateful for the fact that he or she is still in yours.