Senior pets are special—they’ve earned their rest and deserve to live their remaining days in comfort, surrounded by the love of their two-legged companions. Many owners recognize their older furry friends are slowing down, but they may not realize that simple changes in diet or routine, plus supplements or prescription medications, can address the reasons a pet is declining as she ages.

If you are thinking your pet is “so old,” we suggest you come talk to us about what can be done to help with her quality of life. Here are three common conditions we see in geriatric pets and how they can be treated. 

#1: Arthritis

Arthritis, which is also known as degenerative joint disease, is extremely common among older dogs and cats. A quarter of all dogs are diagnosed with arthritis in their lifetimes, with 60% showing arthritic changes on X-rays. In cats, 90% older than 12 years of age show arthritic changes in their joints on X-rays.

Given these statistics, if you have an older pet, it’s likely she is dealing with some level of arthritis, although you may not be seeing obvious signs. You may consider arthritis if your pet is limping, but pets often mask their pain or illness, so always be on the lookout for more nuanced, subtle signs of joint pain, which include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Panting
  • Restlessness
  • Withdrawal from social activities with family members
  • Changes in posture
  • Changes in gait 
  • Irritability
  • Shivering and shaking
  • Aggression, especially when handled
  • Whining 
  • Urinary or fecal accidents in the house, and reluctance to use the litter box

Arthritis may be part of getting older, but the accompanying pain is not necessary. We use a multimodal approach to arthritis treatment that allows maximum efficacy and includes:

  • Non-steroidal antiinflammatories
  • A diet enriched with omega-3 fatty acids 
  • Weight loss where necessary, because obesity exacerbates arthritis pain
  • Chondroprotective drugs, to protect remaining healthy cartilage
  • Adjunct therapies, such as therapeutic laser treatments, acupuncture, physical therapy, and massage

#2: Cognitive dysfunction

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome is a neurological degenerative disorder of senior dogs and cats characterized by a gradual cognitive decline. The clinical signs occur so gradually that owners may not recognize them. 

Almost one-third of cats 11 to 14 years of age develop at least one geriatric-onset behavior problem related to cognitive dysfunction, increasing to more than 50% of cats 15 years of age or older. 

In dogs, cognitive changes typically occur after their eleventh birthday, although a discrepancy between owner survey results and actual disease diagnosis suggests that cognitive dysfunction syndrome may be underdiagnosed in our canine friends. 

Clinical signs of cognitive dysfunction include:

  • Spatial confusion, such as wandering, staring, going to unusual places
  • Altered learning and memory, which may result in house soiling or lack of response to previously learned commands
  • Increased repetitive activities, or a decline in activity
  • Decreased interaction with family members
  • Altered sleep-wake cycles (i.e., night-time waking, anxiety, or restlessness)
  • Altered vocalization (e.g., unprovoked night-time vocalization) 

If your pet is showing signs of cognitive decline, call us. Cognitive dysfunction syndrome has no cure, but treatment options that will ease clinical signs, including prescription medications, a diet rich in antioxidants and essential fatty acids, and brain-supportive dietary supplements, are available. 

#3: Periodontal disease

Dental disease is common in pets over the age of 3 years, so all kinds of dental diseases usually are lurking in a geriatric pet. Gingivitis (i.e., inflammation of the gums) and periodontitis (i.e., inflammation of the tissues around the teeth) are painful, and both act as a nidus of chronic inflammation and infection. Your pet may be eating well, but may still have severe dental pain. 

Your pet’s advanced age likely makes anesthesia for a dental cleaning and exam a scary prospect, but we use modern anesthetics and surgical monitoring to ensure that pets of all ages are safe during surgery. Removing chronic oral infection and pain is necessary to ensure a wonderful quality of life for our aging companions. Many owners tell us that after a dental cleaning and treatment, their geriatric pet acts like a teenager again.  

We recommend twice-yearly wellness visits for pets over the age of 7. This helps us keep track of minor issues before they become major issues, and to institute treatment before a disease progresses beyond hope.

If your pet has celebrated many trips around the sun and is now considered a senior, or you’re noticing that she is slowing down, give us a call. We’d love to catch up with you both and plan for many pain-free golden years for your pet.