Living with an Older Pet

Dogs and cats age much quicker than people. Their development to adulthood takes place over a period of 18-24 months. After that time, each year of a pet’s life is equal to about 4 years of human life.

It has been determined that the age at which pets enter their mature or geriatric years is based on the pet’s body weight and can be influenced by their, size, breed, nutritional status, and disease status. To better understand your pet’s health status, begin proactive wellness testing at 7 years of age.

To improve or maintain the quality of life for pets over 7 years old, it is important to recognize problems early and to manage any issues with appropriate veterinary care, nutrition and exercise. Here are some changes to be aware of as your pet gets older:

Slowing metabolic rate and activity level can result in:

  • An increase in body fat – obesity is unhealthy at any age but is a particular concern with older pets. They are more likely to have heart and lung problems, joint problems and are an anesthetic risk. Older obese cats are more likely to develop diabetes. Obese dogs and cats tend to live shorter lives. Learn to check the body condition score of your pet and help them maintain an ideal weight.
  • A decrease in the amount of lean body tissue you may notice the loss of muscle mass, especially in the face of many older pets.
  • A decrease in total body water – mature pets are prone to becoming dehydrated.

Declining vision

Eye changes often begin around 7-8 years of life; senile or age-related cataract formation is common in pets older than 12 years dry eyes from lack of tear production may cause abnormal discharge to build up in the corner of the eyes, which can damage the cornea. Treatment is easy if diagnosis is made early! Eye changes may be a clue to disease elsewhere in the body. For example, hypertension can affect the eyes: cataracts may be due to diabetes.

Hearing loss

This tends to be very gradual in the aging dog or cat. It is important not to startle pets while they are resting or sleeping.

Loss of sense of smell

This is a particular concern in cats, where their sense of smell is critical to their appetite.

Skin and coat changes

Skin and coat changes may be indicative of underlying disease, which wellness testing helps detect. Be sure to tell your veterinarian about any lumps or bumps you notice while petting/grooming your pet.

Heart and lungs

Mature pets are more likely to develop heart murmurs and lung problems. They may cough, wheeze, pant more and seem short of breath with activity. Cats with heart disease are often reclusive and may open mouth breathe if stressed.

Kidney problems

The first sigh of kidney problems may be a pet that drinks more and urinates more. The pet may lose its appetite, vomit or become sluggish. Mature pets have more problems with urinary tract infections and some older dogs develop urinary incontinence. Wellness testing helps detect early stages of kidney disease and nutritional management can help delay progression.

Tooth and gum disease

Severe tooth and gum disease can cause your pet to stop eating their food and may cause an infection that can spread to other organs. Teeth can abscess, resulting in swelling and pain.


As pets age, they tend to become less active and more prone to constipation. Stools will become less frequent and your pet may display straining. Obese dogs and cats are at risk.

Behaviour changes

Aging in both people and pets may cause changes within the brain. There is an actual drop in the weight of the brain and the way it processes information. Mature pets may seem confused or disoriented. They may sleep more, lose housetraining, become disinterested in their environment, vocalize and experience other changes.

Heat and cold intolerance

As your pets age, they become more susceptible to extremes in temperature. They produce less of the hormones needed to maintain normal body temperature.

Reproductive system

If your dog or cat was not spayed or neutered earlier in life, problems may occur as he or she gets older. Intact females are prone to infections in the uterus and cancer of the breast tissue. Intact males are at higher risk for prostate disease. Although intact female may still cycle and be fertile, pregnancy in dogs older than 6 years are often results in problems for both the mother and the pups.

Endocrine diseases

Mature pets are at risk for the development of thyroid diseases, diabetes and disorders of the adrenal glands.

Musculoskeletal disease

As dogs and cats age, they lose muscle mass and begin to experience degeneration of cartilage. As in people, arthritis is a common problem. Pets with arthritis suffer pain and decreased mobility.

Mature pets are precious members of you family. Regular checkups with your veterinarian, proper nutrition, grooming, exercise and some minor home and environmental modifications or restrictions can help keep your mature pet healthy and safe for years to come.

A baseline blood and urine profile is highly recommended once your pet reaches 7 years of age. This provides and excellent view or your pet’s current health and serves as a benchmark for any changes that develop over the years. Excellent nutrition can make a dramatic difference to help your pet enjoy the best quality of life possible.