As our pets get older, they remain the same cuddly friend we know and love but their needs change slightly. Also they become at risk of a variety of age-specific conditions. Depending on their size, dogs are considered senior pets between the ages of 5 and 8 years old. Whereas cats are considered senior pets after they turn 8.
Luckily, some pets don’t suffer any age-related conditions and remain very much the same. However, we’ve put together a list of things to look out for that indicate that your pet may need some extra support as they get older.
Early diagnosis is key for most of these conditions. If they are identified early, they are easier to manage, and the onset of further symptoms can often be delayed. If you notice any changes in your pet’s behaviour, book in an appointment with our experienced team to assess their health. Let us help you develop strategies to keep them healthy and happy as they age.
1. Senior Pets and Age-related diseases
Senior pets are more at risk of developing diseases that are uncommon in puppies and kittens. Diabetes is much more common in older pets, particularly if they are or have been overweight during their life. Diabetes can be easily managed with regular insulin injections. Insulin resistance (an early symptom of diabetes) can be reversed with weight loss and diet management. Signs of diabetes include fatigue, increased urination and thirst, as well as recurrent infections and slow-healing bruises.
8 years is a long time for a pair of kidneys to work. So kidney disease (where kidneys have reduced function) is common in older pets, as are kidney stones.
Risk of cancer also increases with age, and so it’s important to keep an eye out for any unusual bumps or sores on their body. Most age-related diseases have similar symptoms such as fatigue and unexplained weight loss. So if you notice these things it’s a good idea to book in for a consult with your veterinarian.
2. Behavioural Changes
Your pet may start to respond slightly differently as they age. Which can be a consequence of many different things. Often behavioural changes are a consequence of sense loss, which we discuss further below. Very senior pets (older than 13 years in small dogs and cats, and 10 years in larger dogs) can experience cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Which is characterised by disorientation (for example, getting lost in the house), having more ‘accidents’ in the house, forgetting commands and interrupted sleep patterns.
It is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans, as your pet’s memory and ability to learn becomes less effective with age. There are some treatments that can slow the rate of deterioration. Our veterinarians can help assess your pet and develop strategies with you to make sure your pet is comfortable and feels safe in their environment – for example, moving their bed closer to the door so they can go to the bathroom more easily.
3. Joint Pain and Stiffness
Just as arthritis affects humans as we age, our pets also can suffer from the condition, particularly as they get older. The most common type of joint pain stems from osteoarthritis, where the cartilage (cushioning between bones) wears out. As bones rub together, they can get inflamed, causing joint swelling and stiffness. Common signs of arthritis include limping, reluctance to move or an aversion to stairs or jumping up onto high surfaces. Pets may also lick sore joints or become agitated if you try to touch them.
Luckily there are a wide range of treatments to treat arthritis and reduce swelling. Such as monthly injections or daily use of oral medication. Depending on the degree of inflammation, your pet may require a combination of these treatments. Overweight pets are also more likely to suffer from arthritis. So adopting a weight management program may put less strain on your pet’s joints and reduce their symptoms.
4. Senior Pets and Dental Disease
You may notice that as your pet gets older and older, their breath gets smellier and smellier. Unfortunately, dental disease is extremely common in Australian pets. Even more so in the elderly population. Build-up of tartar and plaque can cause gingivitis, or inflammation of the gums, which can in turn lead to infection. Other signs of dental disease include changes in appetite, or aggression when you try to touch their mouth or head.
When identified early, dental disease can be managed with regular scale and cleans supplemented by a tooth-friendly diet. However, advanced dental decay may mean that your pet requires tooth extractions. Whilst this may sound scary, infected teeth are incredibly painful for your pet, and so removing them greatly improves their quality of life. The Ark routinely performs these surgeries, and so can ensure that your pet will receive the highest standard of care throughout the procedure and their recovery.
5. Loss of Senses
The most common things owners notice as their pets get older are things like a loss of responsiveness. Or that their pet misses their food bowl, or that their eyes are becoming cloudy. All of these are related to loss of senses. Deafness in pets is extremely common as they age So your dog isn’t ignoring you, they just can’t hear your calls. Similarly, cataracts (when the lens of the eye clouds over) develop with age, and whilst they initially cause blurry vision, can progress to blindness. Cataract removal surgery is possible in some cases to restore sight, however, often these signs are simply a consequence of age.
The best way to manage them is to adapt your pet’s way of life to keep things as normal as possible. Sudden changes to furniture can disorientate pets with poor vision. Keeping the floor clean from clutter (such as school bags) will prevent them from tripping over. Most importantly, if your pet’s bed, food and water all remain in the same place, this familiar ‘base camp’ will help them feel safe and happy.
We recommend to book a senior health check every year. If you have questions about your senior pet or if you want to book a senior health check please call us at 02-9416-1300 or book an appointment online.