Ageing and your pet

Some things get better with age – wine, cheese, Bruce Forsythe. However, where our pets are concerned, once they reach the “mature” category, things can start to wear out and it is important to know what to look out for as the quicker a problem is identified the better the chances of managing it successfully. The age where a pet is classified as mature varies between species and in the case of dogs between breeds – it is surprisingly young to some people! Cats and small–medium breed dogs are classed as mature or senior from 8 years of age while larger dog breeds such as Great Danes or St Bernards are senior from around 6 years old. Rabbits and Guinea Pigs would be classified as mature from 5 years of age!

Pets can be remarkably good at hiding problems associated with age so the signs can be quite subtle. Some of the common old age ailments and their signs are detailed in this article – they are remarkable similar to the problems that we suffer from as we get older: 


Most dog walkers tend to be dragged around by their over-exuberant canine – if you’re getting to the stage where you are having to drag your dog on a walk then this could well be due to joint pain or stiffness caused by osteoarthritis. Arthritis is a problem which is slow to progress. In dogs it begins with a mild lameness which is often worse when they have been lying down. Over time this will worsen and become noticeable as reluctance to exercise, climb stairs and in some cases dogs will lick at the affected joints causing sore patches on the skin. Arthritis in cats is much more difficult to spot. Cats aren’t ones for doing any exercise that isn’t strictly necessary so an inactive moggy may not raise an eyebrow. Look for reluctance to groom those difficult to reach places, lack of stretching and an inability to jump up on the sofa or bed. There are a variety of treatments for arthritis ranging from joint supplements to anti-inflammatories depending on the severity of the problem.


You may have joked about your older pet being senile, but it definitely is a problem for some geriatric dogs and cats! Dogs and cats can display a variety of signs associated with cognitive dysfunction – it is important to rule out other disease processes before arriving at senility as a diagnosis. Common signs include: vacant episodes such as staring at a wall or item of furniture with no apparent purpose; asking to go outside and then seeming to forget why and asking to come back in again; excessive vocalization; separation anxiety; a change in temperament or demeanor; house soiling and becoming less responsive to commands and external stimuli. There are several effective medications which are available for the treatment of senility in dogs and cats.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is a problem where it really does make a big difference to the success of treatment if it is picked up early. The symptoms vary slightly depending on which part of the heart is affected and how far the disease process has progressed. The first sign of heart disease in any pet is normally an increase in the resting breathing rate. As with all early signs this can be subtle and difficult to appreciate. However, if you know how many breaths your pet takes in 30 seconds when he or she is healthy then you may well pick up a problem if the breathing rate increases! An increase in breathing rate progresses to a cough, reluctance to exercise, weight loss, inappetance and eventually severe breathing difficulties. Alternative signs of heart disease are fluid retention – especially fluid building up in the abdomen giving a pot-bellied appearance. If you suspect your pet may have a heart problem then a health check is the best way to assess them further. There is no way to turn the clock back but heart disease can be managed very successfully with the correct medications.

Liver and Kidney Problems

Organ dysfunction becomes more prevalent as we age. Liver and kidney dysfunction are the most common organ problems in older pets. Kidney disease manifests with an increase in thirst, often accompanied by more frequent urination. This progresses to inappetance, weight loss, bad breath and sometimes vomiting. Liver disease causes similar signs initially and often progresses to jaundice and fluid retention in the abdomen. Blood and urine tests are required to diagnose these problems which are managed with a combination of medication and diet.

Metabolic Disease

There are a variety of metabolic and hormonal problems which become more prevalent with age. The most common of these is Diabetes Mellitus which occurs when the body is unable to produce any or enough insulin to maintain glucose levels in the blood stream. The signs of diabetes in pets are similar to those seen in humans. Excessive thirst and hunger in the initial stages which eventually progress to weight loss and inappetance if the problem is left untreated. Dogs and cats often develop and unkempt, greasy hair coat as well. Diabetes is easy to diagnose with blood and urine tests. Dogs and Cats respond well to treatment and can live normal lives – however, the condition represents a considerable commitment from pet owners as diabetic pets have to be carefully monitored and treated on a fairly strict regime.

The above represents the most common ailments that affect older pets – obviously there are many more problems out there. You may have noticed that many of the symptoms are caused by several conditions – sometimes further tests are required to get to the bottom of a problem. Additionally, if your pet is over 8 years of age, we offer free health checks with our nurses. This is a great way for your pet to have a basic assessment and helps to pick up health problems in their early stages when they are more manageable. Feel free to give us a call if you would like to take advantage of this.