Looking after your older pet

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At The Healthy Pet Club, our goal is to help your pets live a healthy, long and happy life.

Much like in people, there are lots of changes we expect to see as our pets get older.  Some changes, however, are a sign that something is wrong.  By assuming these signs are “just old age” we risk our pets becoming uncomfortable, or even not living as long.

How do I know my pet is senior?

There is no exact answer for when a pet becomes senior.  Different size dogs have different life-spans, so while a large breed such as a Great Dane is considered elderly from age 5, a small breed like a Chihuahua may not be considered senior until it reaches 10 years old.

Cats have less variation, and are considered to be senior from 11-14 years.

If in doubt, your vet or nurse can advise you.

Health Checks

Taking your pet for regular health checks at your vets is important so any potential health problems can be caught early. This will give your pet the best chance of recovery should there be anything serious found, and is especially important as your pet gets older.

During your pet’s health check, the suitably qualified member of the nursing team following RCVS guidelines will check the following.

Your pet’s health check is also a good opportunity to ask for advice and raise any questions you have about the care of your pet. Find out more about regular pet health checks >

Here are our top ten things to think about as your pet gets older, to keep them in the best shape possible:

Dental disease

Dental disease is a widespread problem in pet cats and dogs.  Regular brushing will slow down development of dental disease but doesn’t stop it altogether.

Signs your pet may have dental disease include:

  • Smelly breath
  • Eating more slowly than usual
  • Eating less than usual
  • Refusing chewy treats like dental sticks
  • No longer chewing on toys or playing tug
  • Not grooming themselves properly (especially in cats)

Age is not a barrier to having a dental procedure performed, and often removing sore, diseased teeth will give pets a new lease of life!  If you’re worried about what is involved please speak to your vet or nurse.

When you become a member of The Healthy Pet Club, fixed price dentals are just one of the benefits included.

Mobility

Arthritis is common in older pets, causing stiffness and pain in the joints, however assuming that limping is due to arthritis risks missing more severe injuries.  Often these can be treated if caught early, such as cruciate ligament rupture.

Signs of arthritis include:

  • Stiffness after resting
  • Walking more slowly
  • Avoiding climbing stairs or jumping
  • Licking over the joints
  • Muscle loss/looking more bony.

Many different pain killers are available to manage arthritis.  Some are given daily by mouth while others are given as a monthly injection. New drugs are often safe to give for many years, and can significantly improve quality of life.  Your vet can help you find a treatment that works for you and your pet.

Did you know? Healthy Pet Club members benefit from 20% off selected lifetime care medications.

Behavioural changes

We also assume old pets get grumpy because they’re fed up, but pets don’t share the same feelings that people do!

Old pets most often seem grumpy because they are uncomfortable, from bad teeth, sore joints or other conditions.  In cats, changes in behaviour can suggest an overactive thyroid or diabetes.  If your pet’s behaviour is changing it is always worth seeing your vet as many conditions are treatable.

Sadly dogs can develop a type of dementia known as canine cognitive dysfunction.  This causes disorientation, restlessness and confusion, often seen as barking at nothing.  This isn’t curable however some treatments can dramatically slow down progression.

Weight loss

Older pets are more prone to conditions like liver disease, kidney disease, diabetes and cancer.  Often one of the first signs is weight loss.  This can be gradual, making it harder to notice.  Regular checks with your vet or nurse are essential to keep a record of your pet’s weight and accurately identify any serious changes.

If weight loss does occur, blood tests might be advised to screen for underlying causes.  Catching things early always provides more options for treatment, and some conditions are manageable or even curable.

Muscle loss is often mistaken for weight loss, as is usually due to sore joints limiting movement.  Pain relief, hydrotherapy or physiotherapy can all help rebuild muscle and keep pets moving comfortably.

Diet

As our pets get older they need different things from their food.  They no longer need protein for growth, or high energy levels to fuel running around all day.

Canine senior diets contain additional nutrients to support brain health, as well as specific fatty acids to aid hair growth and coat quality.  They provide the right ratio of proteins and fats to preserve muscle mass.

Feline senior diets as highly palatable to prevent appetite loss in older cats.  They contain modulated levels of phosphorous to support kidney function, as well as specific nutrients to help cognitive function and mobility.

Become a Healthy Pet Club member today and benefit from our food offer: buy 5 bags of food and get the 6th free at your local veterinary practice.

Lumps and bumps

Lots of pets develop lumps and bumps as they get older but these aren’t always bad news.  Unfortunately, telling the difference between a fatty lump and a nasty lump just isn’t possible from the outside.

We recommend checking your pet weekly for lumps; any that don’t disappear by the following week should be checked by a vet.

Often, the vet will recommend a fine needle aspirate (FNA), in which a few cells are taken out using a small needle – this is painless but can often tell us what the lump is.  This means we can decide on whether any treatment is necessary.

Coat changes

As our pets slow down, often so does their hair growth!  Some coat changes are normal with age, and it is common for pets to have drier skin seen as scurf or dandruff in the coat.

In dogs however, hair coat changes can be a sign of endocrine (hormonal) disease.  Particularly if hair loss is in patches, and is symmetrical.  Other signs can include weight gain, shortness of breath and increased thirst.

In cats, hair is more likely to become matted.  Dental disease and arthritis both make it difficult for cats to groom themselves, and scurf gets trapped in the hair.  Older cats should be brushed regularly, and if they are not grooming properly should be checked over by a vet.

Weight gain

Although unplanned weight loss is concerning in older pets, obesity is just as much of a problem!  Older animals tend not to move as much as younger ones, so don’t burn as much energy.  As a result they are prone to weight gain.  Over time this can easily become a significant problem.

Make sure any conditions restricting exercise are addressed, such as arthritis, and consider a lower energy senior diet.  Losing weight takes time and can be hard work; speak to your local veterinary practice about whether your practice offers nurse-led weight clinics.

Loss of eyesight

Just like in people, pets can lose their sight as they get older.  In dogs especially, this is often due to a condition called nuclear sclerosis which is harmless.  Animals rely on sound and smell to navigate, so if your pet has vision loss you may not notice this until you change their surroundings, either going to a new place or moving around furniture.

Sudden sight loss can be due to a number of problems, such as corneal ulcers, cataracts or glaucoma (painfully high pressure in the eye).  In cats, sudden blindness is often due to damage at the back of the eye caused by high blood pressure.  Any sudden change to your pet’s vision should be checked by a vet, as many of these conditions are treatable.

Vaccinations and parasite treatments

It is essential that we protect our pets with vaccinations and regular parasite treatment throughout their lives.

Most vaccinations don’t build up lifetime immunity to a disease. Booster vaccinations protect your pet for an allotted amount of time, usually 12 months. This is why it’s so important to keep up with your pet’s booster vaccinations, especially senior pets who have a weaker immune system.

Parasite treatments need to be repeated regularly to maintain their benefit.  Older pets are just as able to pick up internal and external parasites as younger pets.  In fact, older animals are less able to cope with any additional pressure so are more likely to suffer with diarrhoea and weight loss due to intestinal worms, or develop anaemia due to flea infestation.

Parasite treatment and vaccinations are all included when you are a member of The Healthy Pet Club >

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