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Ageing Pets - How You Can Care for Them


caring for your ageing pet

Veterinary Outlook – Caring For Your Ageing Pets

Mark Riggs BVetMed MRCVS - Veterinary Services Manager Mole Valley Farmers

Royal Canin Obesity
Hills JD
Hills Metabolic


With advances in Veterinary medicine and surgery dogs and cats are living far longer than they used to. It’s not unreasonable nowadays to expect cats and dogs to be a part of the family for fifteen years or so.  Although for giant dog breeds fifteen years would be exceptional, many household pets are certainly living to a ripe old age.  It probably seems just like yesterday that the new family addition came home for the first time; all those playful moments of things being chewed and curtains being climbed! That said, being prepared for your pets ‘retirement’ age, can lead to a more fulfilled time for both you and your pet.

If your dog is older than eight or your cat older than twelve, here are a few things to watch out for and if noticed to discuss with your vet:

1) Slowing down – unfortunately the old adage of ‘age doesn’t come alone’, rings true for cats and dogs.  Over time joints can become a little worn out.  The cartilage lining that acts as cushioning can become thinner and less able to reduce the normal impacts of exercise.  The capsules surrounding joints can become inflamed, thickened and less flexible.  The joint fluid can become less viscous and again less able to cope with the rigours of normal life.  All this leads to signs of slowing down.  Your dog my take longer to do the normal walk he/she used to.  Your cat may not jump on the sofa as much as he/she used to. Both cats and dogs may spend more time sleeping than they used to.

2) Changes in eating and drinking patterns – generally as our pets get older their metabolism tends to slow down.  The normal progression if left unchecked is for geriatric cats and dogs to gain weight, you can read more about advice on veterinary diets here. Obesity in pets, just like in humans, is an increasing menace.  Eating the same amount whilst exercising less is a sure fire way to gain weight. Often weight gain exacerbates the other changes associated with growing old. Of course though, as with all things there are exceptions to the rule.  Cats, in their older age, can lose weight and sometimes quite dramatically, despite maintaining a very healthy appetite. This would suggest an over active thyroid gland producing far too much thyroid hormone which drives an increasing appetite yet causes weight loss.  Along with changes in eating patterns changes in drinking patterns also occur in old age. Along with the more common kidney issues, a myriad of hormonal changes can lead to an increased thirst.  Conditions such as diabetes, low or high thyroid hormone levels and too much stress hormone (a condition called cushings syndrome) can be first detected by an increase in water consumption and can affect Dogs and Cats alike.

3) Reduced hearing or vision – if only reading glasses and hearing aids were available for our pets! As our pets get older their ability to see and hear decreases.  The lens in the eye becomes less flexible and thus less able to focus sharply on objects.  Cataracts would be a common diagnosis in the older patient.  This is where, over time, the lens becomes less transparent and more opaque, leading to vision that equates to us looking through frosted glass. You may notice this as a gradual change in colour of the centre of the eye; owners often report a gradual change from black to blue or white.  On a similar line to vision changes, reductions in hearing can also occur.  The ear has many, small, hair like structures that rock back and forth in response to sound.  As time goes by, these hair like structures gradually get broken off, reducing hearing.  Of course that’s not to say your pet may just be getting older and wiser and therefor more stubborn instead of going deaf!

And so the question is “what can I do, to best prepare for my pets retirement years?”  

Well two sayings come to mind:

  • Prevention is better than cure
  • The sooner the diagnosis is made the sooner treatment can start 

Pushing back the onset of your dog or cat slowing down can be achieved by closely monitoring your pets’ weight.  Less weight leads to less stress on their joints, leading to lower rates of arthritis.  Should arthritis start, three controls are required; control weight (as discussed), control exercise and finally control pain.  Sensible regular exercise is much better than no exercise or indeed too much exercise.  Advances in veterinary medicine have led to many new drug therapies becoming available to control arthritic pain.  Although these pain medicines won’t slow the progression of arthritis they will have a significantly positive effect on your pet’s general wellbeing.

In terms of changes in eating or drinking patterns, these are best discussed with your vet as soon as you notice a change.  Simple blood and urine tests can determine if there is anything to worry about or not.  Often these are offered by vet practices as a ‘geriatric screen’ and are usually a very cost effective way of having a general pet MOT.  Should anything be seen with these geriatric screens, then more detailed investigations may be required.  The sooner the diagnosis is made, the sooner treatment can start and the better the long term outcomes.

Finally, in terms of hearing and vision changes, these are worth getting checked out and often form part of the above geriatric screen.  Although little can be done, in terms of hearing, there are procedures that can improve vision.  These procedures may not be for every patient or owner. They are however certainly worth having a chat to your vet about should vision be significantly impaired.

In summary just because your pet is heading into senior citizen territory it doesn’t mean you can’t still have a very fulfilling and rewarding relationship with him/her.  In becoming informed about the special needs of older pets and making early changes or starting early treatments, you can rest assured you are doing the best for your beloved companion.  Who knows, with appropriate care and attention, our pets are more likely than ever to be with us as we enter our golden years!





Source Details

Mark Riggs BVetMed MRCVS as seen in Countrystore Magazine

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