Basic Pet Care

Caring for a Senior Pet

Dog Walking in Park

Cats and dogs age differently than humans. By the time your pet is a year or two old, she's already a teenager in human years. By the time she's ten, she's considered middle-aged, and when she's just a few years older than that, she's well into her golden years. Here are some "senior signs" to watch for as your pet ages, but unless you notice something very out of the ordinary, there's no need to rush your old faithful friend to the veterinarian.

  • Hearing loss – Many cats and dogs (and humans, of course) experience hearing loss as they age. This is normal and may eventually result in a total loss of hearing. If you notice your older cat or dog not coming when you call as they used to, don't be alarmed. It's likely just a natural part of the aging process. However, hearing loss can also be caused by parasites, infection, or other ailments of the ear, so have your veterinarian check your pet's ears to make sure that the loss isn't caused by something treatable.
  • Slowing down – Most animals slow down as they age. Your pet may no longer be able to jump as high as she did in her prime, and she may sleep a lot more than usual, as hard as it might be to imagine her sleeping more! Her grooming habits may trail off a bit, as those hard-to-reach areas become more difficult to groom. Older cats tend to lose muscle mass, causing them to slow down considerably and even have gait problems, especially in their hind legs.
  • Vision problems – Cat and dog eyes often become cloudy with a bluish tint in the pupil as they age. These are not cataracts. The condition is called lenticular sclerosis and is a normal sign of aging. You may want to have your pet's eyes checked by your veterinarian just to make sure that the condition is normal and not another medical issue. Also, as pets age they can become more photosensitive, so older animals may not appreciate bright sunlight or well-lit areas. Often, when this condition occurs, the eye becomes lighter and has a tattered appearance.
  • Senility – Just like humans, pets can develop memory loss and dementia associated with old age. In cats, this may mean that they have trouble finding their litter box, meow or cry for no apparent reason, or undergo a general change in behavior. Alzheimer's research has shown that cats can also get the disease.
  • Dental problems – As cats and dogs age, they may develop dental issues or tooth loss and may need to start eating softer food. If you suspect dental problems—perhaps your cat is drooling abnormally or your dog isn't eating as much—consult your veterinarian.

To care for your senior pet, make sure that she's on the correct diet for her age group—your veterinarian should be able to give you dietary advice. Also, provide your pet with a couple of comfortable beds in her normal sleeping area(s). Try to keep her away from busy or noisy situations, such as holiday parties or when kids come to visit. She may need a little more peace and quiet in her old age.

For more information on caring for senior pets, check out the AVMA website. Or, search ASPCA dog or cat care.