Caring for older pets

It is easy to forget sometimes that cats and dogs age much more rapidly than us. Because pets age more quickly, serious health problems can occur in a lot shorter time period. Our pets age 5-8 times faster than us. Cats and small dogs for example, that are 15 human years would actually be equivalent to 76 years old for a human and extra large breeds of dogs that reach 12 years old are actually 93 years of age.
As our pets age, they become more susceptible to a number of problems and need more care to ensure they have a good quality of life. Some of the main problems to be aware of in older pets are; arthritis, heart disease, dental disease and lumps. It is important to bring your animal in for an annual health check each year so that problems like this can be assessed and treated before it becomes too late.


This is a very common problem in older dogs. You might notice that your dog has difficulty getting up especially on cold mornings or is resistant to go for walks. Other times dogs can hide their pain quite well but when examined reveal that they are quite sore in particularly their spine or hips. The vet will discuss with you the most appropriate management for your dog depending on the severity of arthritis, sometimes radiographs are required. Pain relief medications and a combination of supportive therapies are available.

Heart disease:

This is another common disease in older dogs with some breeds such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels being particularly susceptible. Signs of heart disease include lethargy, coughing, reduced exercise tolerance and inappetence. If pets are brought in early in the course of the disease, there is more chance of starting treatment in time to lessen the signs and severity of disease and increase your pet’s length and quality of life. At each health check, your pet’s heart and lungs will be thoroughly assessed.

Dental disease:

Dental disease can become a significant problem in older dogs and cats, particularly in the smaller breeds. Dental disease can cause tooth decay, tooth root abscesses, gum disease, bad breath, pain and can also lead to infections elsewhere in the body. Teeth are checked each year in your pet’s annual health exam but if you suspect a tooth problem it is recommended to bring your pet in to get this assessed. See the page on dental disease for more information.


Older animals are susceptible to a number of lumps and bumps. Tumours can occur in older animals on their skin, under the skin or inside the body. There is a large range in the severity of these lumps with some being benign and requiring no action and others requiring immediate surgical removal. It is a good idea to assess your pet regularly for unusual lumps. If you find a lump on your pet the vet can take a sample at the consult to give an initial assessment. Some will require further testing such as taking a larger sample under an anaesthetic.

 Overall, regular health check ups for older pets are very important.
Your pet can be thoroughly examined, any problems identified, and any treatments given to make their senior years as comfortable and enjoyable as possible (for both the animal and owner!).
Please let us know if your pet is acting strangely like drinking, eating or weeing a lot, or is unusually sleepy or aggressive as these may be signs of illness and a lot of diseases can be managed quite well if caught early.