Parenting And Caring for a Senior Pet
Adopting an aged dog or cat
Parenting a senior pet is a special time… Whether you have recently adopted an aged dog or have had the privilege of raising them since they were young, seeing your loyal companion live out their final years can be incredibly rewarding.
As pets get older, just like humans, grey hairs start to show, activity slows, eyesight and hearing fade and movement stiffens. Whilst we would love to prevent these things from happening, it’s all part of life. Some pets live years beyond their estimated breed age range and with adequate nutrition, hygiene measures and modern veterinary care, this is becoming more common.
As a pet owner, it is important to understand some of the measures that may need to be taken as your pet gets older to keep them safe and healthy. If you’re concerned that your pet is showing signs of any of the following, we highly recommend seeking veterinary attention for further advice.
Senior pets can suffer from dementia, similar to Alzheimer's in humans, which causes problems with their memory. Common signs of dementia include:
- Confusion, anxiety or disorientation
- Loss of toilet training
- Change in sleeping pattern
- Change in ‘themselves’
- Memory loss e.g., stop responding to commands or following normal routine
- Change in activity levels
- Changes to noise levels e.g., more vocal than usual, howling, barking or meowing, often for no clear reason and usually at night
- Change in appetite
Your vet may prescribe medication as well as brain function-supporting supplements for their food or a special diet.
As pets age they can become incontinent due to a weakening of the muscles that hold urine in the bladder. There are also many diseases that can cause a pet to create more urine than normal (polyuria) and several of these have higher occurrence in older pets.
When no specific cause can be identified, medication may be prescribed by your vet that increase the tone of the muscles that hold urine in the bladder.
Arthritis is a common condition amongst senior pets. Although age is a high-risk factor, other contributors can include obesity, genetics or injuries/trauma. Common signs of arthritis include:
- Reduced mobility
- Abnormal posture
- Reduced activity
- Abnormal grooming
- Changes in temperament
- Muscle atrophy
Lumps and bumps
Lumps found on our pets can range from warts, benign tumours, abscesses to malignant or cancerous tumours. Although less than half the lumps seen and tested by vets aren’t serious, any lump that is seen to have fast growth, redness, swelling, pus, an opening or to be painful should be given medical attention.
Without testing the lump (fine needle aspirate, biopsy, or surgical removal) a diagnosis on whether it is serious cannot always be determined.
When your old pet coughs or gags, it is natural to dismiss the matter if it is a singular occurrence. Unless your pet has already been diagnosed with a condition that causes coughing, regular coughing heard from your pet should not be taken lightly as it can relate to heart and lung diseases and therefore veterinary attention is advised.
Build-up of plaque and tartar in your pet’s mouth causes bad breath and can eventually lead to periodontal disease and tooth decay. Dental disease is seen regularly in older pets and is not only very painful but can cause irreversible damage to the mouth. In other cases, the bad smell may be something more sinister and should always be examined and monitored by a vet.
Similar to hearing loss in older people, degenerative changes to the nerves found inside animals’ ears can occur over time. The changes will likely be gradual, with symptoms creeping up slowly, and you may not notice until virtually all your pets’ hearing is gone. Adding hand signals to any verbal cues can help with maintaining some manners if the hearing ability decreases.
Slight or complete vision loss in our pets’ overtime can occur for many reasons. Unlike humans, animals do not rely on vision as their most important sense and can adapt very well to living a life without sight. Their noses and ears allow them to adjust quite well to changes in their eyesight and therefore can still a long and very fulling life (just don’t move the furniture around).
As we continue to understand the challenges faced by ageing pets, more and more preventative measures are becoming widely available to help provide our faithful friends relief and comfort.