Apr 01 2013

Changes in Aging Pets

The progressive loss of both vision and hearing are common in aging, or senior, pets. The lack of these senses may go undetected by the pet owner until the pet is placed in an unfamiliar environment. For example, a pet owner may not notice their pet is having difficulty seeing until they bump into furniture after it has been rearranged. In these cases, a pet will become anxious, so the pet owner should reassure their pet by staying nearby.

There are things a pet owner can do to help their friend adjust to the loss of one or more senses. For instance, the pet should be placed on a leash and taken around by the pet owner to explore any new environment. This is especially true when traveling or relocating to a new home. A pet that has lost vision and/or hearing should never be allowed to roam unattended outdoors and should be observed closely by the pet owner. With these minor adjustments, a pet’s quality of life need not be affected by the loss of a sense.

Dental Disease
Dental disease is common in senior dogs and cats. Not only can dental disease be painful and affect appetite and activity, but it can also lead to disease affecting vital organs, such as the heart. Signs that a pet may be affected by oral disease are bad breath, refusal to eat, unusual tongue movements, excessive licking, and pawing at the mouth. The impact of dental and/or periodontal disease should not be taken lightly. If detected early and tended to quickly, damage can usually be treated and often repaired.

Arthritic changes are extremely common in senior dogs and cats. These changes may be more significant in obese pets because of the added stress incurred on major weight bearing joints. The size of the pet is also a factor in how arthritis will affect their life style. For example, a lean cat with arthritic hips may maintain mobility longer than that of a large dog. Arthritic cats may have trouble jumping from surface to surface or when entering the litter box. Dogs may experience trouble going up and down stairs. Signs that a pet may exhibit when experiencing arthritis include lameness, abnormal gait, slowness to rise, sit or lie down, behavior changes such as aggression, or even inappropriate elimination due to the inability to posture. When a pet does experience arthritis, it is important that the pet owner ensure these physical limitations do not impede access to food, water or litter. A pet owner can further extend their pet’s comfort and ease of mobility by building a ramp to get in and out of cars or litter boxes and ensuring only well padded bedding is used to cushion any bony protrusions.

Though a pet may have no history of separation anxiety as a result of being left alone or away from its owner, senior pets may begin to demonstrate this behavior characteristic. Separation anxiety can be exhibited in several forms including increased vocalization, destructiveness, self-inflicted wounds, excessive grooming, and inappropriate urination and defecation. In senior dogs separation anxiety can result from discomfort that occurs with aging or from an undiagnosed medical issue. For example, inappropriate urination can be a pet’s way of telling their owner they are suffering from a bladder infection, kidney disease, a neurologic disorder, diabetes mellitus or a variety of other medical issues. If a pet owner notices any of these changes in their pet, a visit to the veterinarian is warranted. If the veterinarian can find no medical cause to explain these behaviors, medication may be recommended.

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