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older and wiser: how senior pets are different

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

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.

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Posted by Sarah Rather
on March 21 2016 06:40

This was a good reinforcement article for me. I know about many of these issues for my aging dog. The article helps me accept that my girl is getting older. She is of exactly how she is. I have only had rescue dogs in my like of dogs, Layla is my first puppy rescue, taken from her home at 2 weeks I adopted her at 6, so we've had as dogs go along time together and I'm hoping for a few more years. thanks you

Posted by Lisa stanfill
on March 17 2016 10:52

I am writing in response to Susan Holljes. Thank you so much Susan for all you have done and do for "Ollie ". You gave him a wonderful home in his later years . I appreciate hearing stories like this and want to thank you . I wish there were more people like you out there . God bless you and all your animals ! Take care , Lisa P.S. You deserve more than a pat on the back but yes Ollie love and wagging tail says it all !

Posted by Susan Holljes
on September 04 2014 15:07

It sounds like the same things that happens to elderly people. How sad it is that some owners will euthanize an elderly pet for piddling on the rugs. I have one in my home now. I volunteer at a dog/cat shelter and this old Collie came in with it's owner, arthritic, mostly blind, partially deaf and it looks like he was living a miserable life. I begged the owner to let me have the old dog and he gave it to me. The arthritis was a major problem and it took 3 people to get the poor fellow in the car. We went right to my vet. $450 lighter in my wallet, but a great investment! I thought my husband was going off the deep end till this old guy stumbled up to him and put his head in my husband's lap. That won him a place at the table. The other three dogs did the usual sniff inspection and decided he could stay. That was almost 7 months ago. Today, "Ollie" is walking much better. the glaucomas are being treated to help keep the pressures down, but the blindness is slowly getting worse. Ollie is learning the house very well, knows where I keep the biscuits and the dog food. His weight is getting better as he was about 10 pounds on the light side. Most of his teeth had rotted out so he gets a soft diet that I don't think he was given before. The teeth have been pulled and he's more comfy now. When we our take walks in the state park near us, we drag a wagon along with us in case Ollie tires out. He goes right over to it and patiently waits to be lifted in. He's never been denied a long walk with the other dogs and you know he appreciates it as the tail never stops wagging. With a little bit of effort, I made the difference in one dogs' life. We have probably given him a few extra years of a wonderful life. He even gets carried up the stairs at night and has his bed at the side of our bed. The tail keeps wagging. I really do need to give myself a pat on the back for saving Ollie, but really...the wagging tail does it all!

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