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Senior Pets

Time ticks on for all of us

One of the most common questions I get asked as a vet in relation to senior pets is “How much longer will my pet live?”

Usually this is a very difficult question to answer. I have treated cats as old as 23 and 24 and I have treated a dog as old as 20. However, it is not uncommon for a pet to die of age related disease as early as 10 to 12 years of age. Improved diets, neutering, dental care and veterinary care now means our pets are living longer than ever.

The question that owners of senior pets should be asking is “What are the things I should be doing to keep my pet healthy and happy as he gets older?”

This is a question I am always happy to answer as there is so much we can do to maintain a good quality of life for our older pets – and for vets maintaining and improving quality of life for our patients is what its all about.

It is important to remember that old age is not a disease itself but our pets are more likely to suffer from certain conditions as they age. It is therefore a good idea to bring your older pet to your vet for a regular check up.

Pets age faster than we do – so a trip to the vet once a year is about the equivalent of a senior citizen visiting the doctor every 7 years. Also vets are better equipped to spot signs of disease that pet owners do not always notice – and they can do something about it. Often a pet owner will say to me that their pet is fine but he is “just getting old” – this is when alarm bells start ringing and I look for some of the common senior pet conditions…..

Here is a list of some of the common conditions I will see in older dogs and cats.

  • Dental disease – this is huge
  • Arthritis
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid disease
  • Kidney and liver disease
  • Obesity/Weight problems

Dental disease – this is huge

I would say more than 75% of older pets have some level of dental disease. This can range from moderate plaque to heavy calculus and severe gum disease. Dental disease means lots of extra bacteria in the mouth which can lead to other health problems.

Most dental conditions are quite treatable; pets will usually require a general anaesthetic to have dental work done. This is not as scary as it may sound – modern veterinary anaesthesia is generally very safe, and whilst there is always a slight risk, we will only recommend anaesthesia if the benefits of doing the procedure outweigh the risks.


Things you should know about arthritis in senior pets

  • it is very common
  • it can be very painful
  • arthritis is very treatable – speak to your vet, there are loads of options
  • signs can be easily missed
  • symptoms include lameness, reluctance to exercise, stiffness particularly after rest
  • animals with arthritis tend not to “cry out” in pain, they will usually do their best to hide it

Heart disease

Age-related heart problems are common in dogs and to a lesser extent cats. Some breeds are more prone to problems than others.

Signs of heart disease include:

  • coughing (especially in dogs)
  • breathing difficulties
  • slowing down (getting old)
  • reluctance to exercise
  • sleeping more
  • weight loss
  • collapsing or fainting

Most heart diseases will be picked up on an examination of your pet. Heart conditions in pets tend to be treated with medicine (rather than surgery) and it can have spectacular results. All vets will have patients that are alive for years extra thanks to the brilliant medications now available.

Make sure your vet gives a good listen to your pets chest at your next check up!


As pets get older they are more likely to suffer from cancer. Sometimes this means lumps and bumps on the skin and other times it means growths inside the body. Dogs (male and female) that are not neutered are more likely to suffer from certain types of cancer.

Early detection is always a bonus and many cancers can be treated with surgery and sometimes with medicine. It doesn’t mean the end of the world if your pet suddenly starts growing a new lump but it is always worth getting it checked. A well-informed consultation with your vet will help you decide what is best.


Just like people, dogs and cats get diabetes.

It is more common in overweight pets. Signs include increased hunger, thirst and urination. Usually easy to diagnose and can be managed very well by most owners.

Thyroid disease

Underactive thyroid is common in dogs. 

Signs include:

  • weight gain
  • lethargy
  • skin problems

Can be difficult to diagnose in that a few tests may need to be done to be sure, but usually quite easy to treat with a tablet or drop of liquid into the food daily.

Over active thyroids are common in cats.

Signs include:

  • weight loss
  • hyperactivity
  • excess hunger and thirst

Can be easily diagnosed with a blood test and there are a number of treatment options available. An older cat that is losing weight and with perhaps an increased appetite should be taken to the vet – and not ‘written off’ as just ‘getting old’.

Kidney and liver disease

As pets age so do their organs – older pets can often run in to problems with liver and kidneys.

Signs include:

  • weight loss
  • increased thirst
  • increased urination

Usually diagnosed with the aid of blood and urine tests. Treatments vary and diet is massively important.

Obesity/Weight problems

I couldn’t do a piece on older pets and not mention weight control.

Obesity can exacerbate other common senior pet conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis. Your vet or vet nurse can help your senior pet lose weight and this can lead to a dramatic improvement in quality of life – and that is what its all about!

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