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Aging Changes in Dogs and Cats

As pets age, they experience a number of physical changes. Some of these changes may seem sudden like hearing loss, and others are more subtle such as arthritic changes. The changes that you may see with your aging pet can often not be cured, but they can often be managed to help your pet feel more comfortable.

Noticeable Changes In Your Senior Pet

  • Senior pets Dogs and CatsJust like people, as pets age, their nutritional requirements change due to a decrease in metabolism and decrease in exercise. Most senior pets need their calories cut by about 20% without any change in exercise. Their energy requirements may decrease by another 10% with decreased exercise. It is important to monitor your pet’s weight as they get older. Increased weight makes it harder for older pets to move around and can lead to other health issues and a shorter life span. Talk to your veterinarian about the nutrition and calories that your senior pet may need.
  • Elbow callouses are another thing commonly seen in dogs as they age. This is due to the fact that they are not as active and are laying around more. The elbows are pressure points when a dog is laying down, and that is why the callouses form. Callouses more commonly form when a dog lays mostly on hard surfaces. Make sure that your dog has a soft place to lay on like an orthopedic dog bed.
  • You may notice as your pet ages that you will start seeing gray hair. This tends to be more common in dogs than cats and is often seen on their face more than any other part of the body. Dogs and cats can also start developing more skin tumors. These tumors can be benign or cancerous. It’s important to have new masses looked at by your veterinarian to determine if they are cancerous or not, and to determine if they need to be removed.
  • Arthritis is a huge issue that most animals experience as they age. Owners make the mistake of thinking that their pet will cry or make other sounds of discomfort if they are painful. It is rare that an animal will do this. Signs of arthritis include not getting on and off of furniture anymore, difficulty getting into a car, not jumping onto things that they normally jumped on to, going up the stairs on a diagonal, limping, and muscle mass loss. You may find that your cat is going to the bathroom outside of the litterbox. This can be a sign of arthritis pain, and it is difficult for your cat to get in and out of the litterbox. You may want to try a different litterbox with lower sides and make sure that your cat doesn’t need to go up or down stairs to get to the litterbox. You should discuss arthritis with your veterinarian and decide which course of management works best to manage your pet’s pain.
  • Since senior pets are less active, another change that you may see is that your pet’s nails may become more brittle and become more prone to breaking. The best way to handle this is with frequent nail trimming. Nails will also get longer quicker in senior pets due to walking around less.
  • You may see changes in bathroom habits as well with your senior pet. Dogs, especially female dogs, may start leaking urine while laying down. This problem can be managed with medication. You may also see fecal incontinence in both cats and dogs. This is typical since it is uncomfortable or even painful for senior pets to posture when defecating. As a result, they do it less frequently, which can lead to fecal incontinence; or in cats, defecation outside the litterbox. Cats tend to suffer from constipation more than dogs. If you notice less fecal material in the litterbox, or the feces you find are very dry and hard, your pet may be suffering from constipation and need changes in their diet or medication to help with this.
  • Hearing loss is a common thing that we see in senior pets. It often seems like a sudden change even though the onset is typically slow. As owners, it seems sudden because we don’t recognize hearing loss until it is advanced. Abnormal barking when you approach your pet may be an early sign of hearing loss. They will bark because they didn’t hear you approaching, and you startled them. Another sign of hearing loss is when they don’t listen to commands. There is no great way to test for hearing loss and it’s not reversible, but using a flashlight for signaling your pet or vibrations (i.e. stomping your foot) are ways to try and communicate with them.
  • Eye changes are another thing we see in senior pets. Your pet should have their eyes checked at their annual exam. Owners will often notice a haziness in their pet’s eyes which may be cataracts, but can also be another eye condition called nuclear sclerosis which doesn’t affect vision as cataracts do. Your veterinarian can differentiate between the two. Although we can never tell for sure how well an animal can see since they can’t read an eye chart, we can tell if they are visual or not. If you notice your pet is running into things, this could be a sign that your pet is blind. If your pet has sudden blindness, contact your veterinarian right away since there are many different diseases that can contribute to sudden blindness.

These are just a few of the things that you may see as your pet ages. There are many health issues that can develop as your pet ages. It’s important that your pet sees their veterinarian at least once a year, even if they seem okay. Animals are the masters at hiding issues until they become a big problem. Often if issues are found early, things can be done to make your pet more comfortable.

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