Aging is inevitable, and certain diseases are more likely to affect older pets. Current recommendations support that older pets should increase their veterinary visits to twice a year so that age-related changes can be identified early and treated promptly. We review several common diseases that affect senior pets.

Arthritis in older pets

Arthritis refers to pathologic changes in one or multiple joints, such as cartilage damage, inflammation inside joints, and bony proliferation around joints. Although joint disease can lead to decreased mobility and pain for your pet, several options can increase their comfort. A multimodal approach that combines oral medications, nutraceuticals, weight management, and environmental modifications can greatly improve an arthritic pet’s mobility and decrease their pain. If your older pet isn’t moving around as well as they once did, schedule an appointment with Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital for an evaluation.

Senior pets and kidney disease

Kidney function often declines as pets get older, leading to decreased efficiency in eliminating waste products in the urine. Renal disease signs may include:

  • Increased drinking and urination
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Poor coat quality

As kidney disease progresses, frequent infections, vomiting, diarrhea, and bad breath are often noticed. Diagnosis is made via bloodwork and urinalysis, and sometimes with imaging, including X-rays or ultrasound. Although kidney disease cannot be cured, various therapies and medications are available to slow its progression and to improve your pet’s appetite and attitude.  

Cancer in pets

As in people, older animals have an increased cancer risk. Skin lumps and bumps require veterinary evaluation, especially if they grow rapidly, change shape or color, or cause your pet discomfort. Internal tumors typically produce signs related to the organ system affected. Bone tumors, for example, may cause lameness, while pets with lung cancer may cough or become easily tired. Some, although not all, cancers can be cured through surgery or oncologic therapy, but many can be managed to permit a good quality of life for your pet as long as possible. Regular veterinary visits can help identify cancer early, when it is most easily treated.

Thyroid Disease in older pets

Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism occur frequently in older dogs and cats, respectively. Since thyroid hormones drive metabolism, when produced in excess, the pet’s metabolism speeds up.  Hyperthyroid cats may eat voraciously yet lose weight, become hyperactive, vocalize frequently, and rarely rest. In contrast, decreased thyroid hormones slow pets down. Hypothyroid dogs commonly experience weight gain, and may tire easily, shed excessively, and become cold intolerant. Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are straightforward to diagnose and treat, so schedule an appointment for your pet if you notice these signs.

Dental disease in pets

By age 3, 70% of dogs and cats have developed periodontal disease, and by their senior years, they can have extensive disease, especially if they have not received regular dental care. Smaller dog breeds are particularly prone to dental disease, but any dog breed, as well as cats, can be affected. Damaged teeth, gum disease, and tartar not only cause oral pain, but also can lead to kidney, liver, and heart disease. Dental disease signs include:

  • Bad breath
  • Tooth discoloration
  • Reddened gums
  • Broken teeth
  • Drooling
  • Dropping food
  • Facial swellings around the mouth and under the jaw bones
  • Decreased appetite, although many pets with significant disease will hide their oral pain and continue to eat normally

If you notice these signs in your pet, schedule a dental examination as soon as possible, because your pet is likely in pain. Also, untreated dental disease is associated with a shorter life span although, fortunately, most problems are treatable, despite their severity.

Cognitive dysfunction in senior pets

Like people, pets may demonstrate changes in mental acuity with age. Cognitive dysfunction usually presents with behavioral changes, such as:

  • Aimless wandering
  • Pacing at night
  • Confusion 
  • Sudden nervousness or fear toward familiar people, places, or sounds    
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Inappropriate urination or defecation
  • Grouchiness 
  • Increased vocalization
  • Highly repetitive behaviors

Cognitive dysfunction has no cure, but can be slowed with medications. A veterinary visit will help determine if your pet is also experiencing decreased hearing, vision loss, or other health problems that frequently occur in senior pets, and that can accompany cognitive dysfunction. 

Although our beloved pets can’t live forever, we can help them enjoy a happy, comfortable old age. Our Kennedy Heights Pet and Bird Hospital team is always happy to answer your questions about your senior dog or cat. Remember that your older pet should have their wellness examination at least twice yearly, so if your pet is due, contact us for an appointment.