Accepting the reality that our pets aren’t as young as they once were is hard. Many owners find it easier to overlook subtle aging signs and make excuses for their pet’s behavior changes and decreased activity. Unfortunately, denying senior pet issues can cause unnecessary pain and suffering. Accepting your pet’s senior status is the only way to give them the care they need, and spot age-related conditions while they’re still treatable. 

Here are seven common senior pet issues and how to identify them:

#1: Mobility issues affecting senior pets

Arthritis is the most commonly diagnosed condition among senior pets. Like people, aging pets can suffer stiffness and pain when they move, because of joint cartilage deterioration. Your pet may initially slow down on walks, play less, or hesitate to use the stairs or jump. Untreated arthritis will eventually limit your pet’s life, and may lead to obesity and depression.

Although arthritis is progressive, the disease can be managed when diagnosed in the early stages. Effective arthritis treatment targets pain and promotes strength and mobility. Bolton Veterinary Hospital uses many modalities to treat arthritis, including:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Acupuncture
  • Laser therapy
  • Nutritional counseling and weight management
  • Low-impact exercises

#2: Cognitive dysfunction syndrome in senior pets

Senior moments aren’t limited to humans—dogs and cats can experience mental confusion and forgetfulness similar to Alzheimer’s disease. Age-related deterioration and plaque formation in the brain is called cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS), and can appear in older pets as disorientation, loss of house training, and personality changes. 

If your senior pet is behaving abnormally, they should be examined at Bolton Veterinary Hospital. Many illnesses and age-related sensory loss can mirror CDS, so an examination and blood work are necessary to rule out these conditions. CDS is incurable and unpreventable, but medication, specialized diets, and mental enrichment may play a role in slowing its onset and progression.

#3: Vision and hearing loss in senior pets

Sensory changes are another aging problem shared by pets and people. Hearing impairment occurs because of a gradual decline in auditory cells, and is often hard to detect until the loss is significant. Like their owners, pets initially lose the ability to hear specific frequencies, which can make signs seem inconsistent. Because hearing is not their primary sense, dogs and cats cope extremely well with their impairment.

Vision changes are easier to notice, as pets may bump into furniture, or hesitate in low lighting, or to use stairs or ramps. Your pet’s eyesight may be affected by benign age-related nuclear sclerosis—which is typical, and affects only near-field vision—or cataracts, which may require veterinary attention. If your senior pet experiences sudden, intense irritation, swelling, or bulging of the eye, seek immediate care at Bolton Veterinary Hospital. These signs can indicate glaucoma and require emergency treatment to reduce eye pressure. 

#4: Kidney disease in senior pets

The kidneys are responsible for filtering the blood and removing waste products and toxins from circulation. This filtration is impaired when the nephrons (i.e., microscopic structures that  perform filtration) are damaged by age, toxin exposure, chronic medication, or cancer. Unfortunately, kidney disease (i.e., kidney failure) signs don’t appear until two-thirds of the kidneys are non-functional, making yearly blood work necessary to detect early stage disease. Initial signs include increased thirst and urination, followed by loss of appetite, vomiting, weight loss, pale gums, and bad breath.

Early kidney disease may be slowed with medication, specialized nutrition, and fluid therapy (i.e., dialysis), while supportive care is the only option for late or end-stage disease.

#5: Cancer in senior pets

Cancer affects nearly 50 percent of dogs older than 10 years of age. Although cancer is reportedly less common in cats, feline cancers are often more aggressive and respond poorly to treatment. Perform a monthly “cancer check” such as this one  to look for lumps, swelling, and overall health changes, which can be the first cancer indications. 

Because cancer doesn’t always manifest itself with physical signs until the problem has spread, we strongly recommend twice-yearly wellness exams at Bolton Veterinary Hospital. More frequent visits allow our veterinarians to detect subtle changes in body condition during your pet’s physical exam and screening tests, and to pursue advanced diagnostics including X-rays, ultrasound, and biopsy, if necessary.

#6: Dental disease in pets

If you haven’t maintained your senior pet’s dental health with annual cleanings and home care, they probably have periodontal disease. This inflammatory gum condition is caused by plaque and tartar below the gumline, and results in pain, tooth and bone loss, and severe infection that can lead to heart, lung, liver, and kidney damage.

Only a dental cleaning guided by dental X-rays while your pet is anesthetized can effectively remove plaque and tartar and determine the extent of damage below the gumline. If your senior pet is drooling excessively, eating more slowly, or refusing to chew their favorite toy, schedule an appointment for a dental consultation.

#7: Obesity in senior pets

The senior pet’s sedentary lifestyle and reduced mobility makes them more susceptible to obesity. But, weight is more than a number on the scale—obese pets have a shorter lifespan and are at a higher risk for arthritis, cancer, heart disease, respiratory issues, and kidney failure. 

Weight management can be a challenge, but we’re here to help. If your pet is overweight, our veterinarians can review your pet’s current diet and activity level, and make specific recommendations to help them slim down safely.

Although we can’t make your senior pet young again, we can extend their quality of life and improve their wellbeing by embracing their senior status and staying attentive to their unique needs. If we’ve not seen your senior pet for a while, schedule an appointment at Bolton Veterinary Hospital.