What are the signs of aging in pets, what do older pets need, and how can you help care for your older pet?


Everyone on the planet is aging, and this includes our four-legged companions. It makes sense that the same maladies that strike humans as we age also can affect our elder pets, such as osteoporosis and arthritis, and even mental problems connected with aging, such as senility, can affect our pets.

We of the human persuasion have learned many tricks for keeping Old Man Age from attacking, at least for a while. By paying attention to their needs, we can also help our furry companions live their golden years in a happier and healthier state. A press release by Jennifer Torline, based on work by veterinarian Susan Nelson, both at Kansas State University, gives a number of tips for helping us recognize and care for our pets as they age…


“Aging pets are a lot like aging people with respect to diseases and senility issues,” Nelson said, citing diabetes, chronic kidney disease, cancer, osteoarthritis, periodontal disease and heart disease as some of the conditions that can afflict aging pets.

“Like people, routine exams and tests can help detect some of these problems earlier and make treatment more successful,” Nelson said. “It’s also important to work closely with your veterinarian, as many pets are on more than one type of medication as they age, just like humans.”

Owners can prevent disease or increase longevity by helping their pets exercise, maintain a healthy weight and stay current on vaccines and heartworm prevention.

“Such actions obviously can’t prevent all diseases, but when caught early, many diseases can be managed and extended good quality of life can be achieved,” Nelson said.

“It is important to take pets in for a semiannual health exam and lab tests for early detection of problems,” Nelson said. “Diseases such as systemic hypertension and Diabetes Mellitus are just a few that can occur at a relatively young age and often take owners by surprise. Urinary or fecal incontinence are other issues that may occur as your pet matures.”

As pets age, their behavior can also change, Nelson said. They may have changes in appetite or activity, tend to sleep more, become easily disoriented or interact less with the family.

Pet owners may not expect some of their pets’ behavioral changes, such as senility, phobias of thunderstorms or separation anxiety. Because senior pets can develop anxieties — such as fear of loud noises, crowds and children — pet owners should try to avoid those situations when possible and talk to their veterinarians about behavior modification and the possibility of behavior modifying medications if indicated.

To ease the aging process, avoid having pets run and jump because such activities are stressful on their joints. Walking or swimming are better alternatives for pets with osteoarthritis. Many joint supplements, pain medications and joint health diets are available to help osteoarthritis.

Owners also can provide a warm, quiet, soft place to sleep, soften food if painful teeth are a problem and change a pet’s diet for specific diseases when prescribed by their veterinarian, Nelson said. Owners also can do simple helpful tasks, such as flipping yard lights on at night if a pet is having vision problems or moving a litter box for easier access if stairs are a problem.

Nelson said owners should visit with their veterinarian when they have any questions or concerns about their aging pets so they can learn the best ways to care for them. With some extra preventative care and awareness of their pets’ needs, owners can provide a healthy and comfortable life for their aging friends.

“Lastly, give your senior pets lots of TLC — tender, loving care,” Nelson said.

Our thanks to Jennifer Torline, for this press release based on information from veterinarian Susan Nelson, both of Kansas State University.


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