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What to Expect As Your Pet Ages


As pets get older, there are noticeable signs of aging. As pets age, they often experience significant changes in their overall health, including joint pain and mobility loss. Understanding the signs and symptoms of your dog or cat’s changing health needs will help you to get them the medical care they need. 

When is My Dog Considered a Senior?

Veterinarians consider dogs a senior pet earlier than you may think. A dog’s “senior” status can vary by its breed weight. 

Dog Weight Age They Are a Senior Dog
Small breeds (weighing between 2 – 20 lbs.) Age 7
Medium breeds (weighing between 21 – 50 lbs.) Age 7
Large breeds (weighing between 51 – 90 lbs.) Age 5
Giant breeds (weighing more than 90 lbs.) Age 5

Senior pets require different levels of veterinary care and a change in their dietary and exercise needs. Once your pet is considered a senior, it’s essential to plan a wellness visit with your veterinarian to ensure that you give your dog or cat the proper care and nutrition. Additionally, senior pets may need to start visiting their vet twice a year. 

Understanding Senior Pet Health Issues

Aging is a natural process, and your senior pet will begin to move slower, get a little gray around the muzzle, and you will see noticeable changes in your pet’s physicality. 

1. Loss of Strength in Senior Pets

large dog uses rear support harness for back legs

It’s quite common for older dogs to lose muscle and gain weight. Many senior pets will experience a change in energy. They most likely sleep more and play less. This results from senior dogs and cats having a lower endurance level and the onset of joint conditions like osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia, and degenerative joint disease, which can all make it painful for your pet to move like they used to. 

Older pets often experience muscle atrophy or loss of muscle mass, most often in the hind legs, but a pet’s front legs can atrophy as well. As the muscle diminishes, your elderly pet will struggle to support themselves. These signs can range from shaky back legs, swaying, or even a senior dog’s legs occasionally giving out on them. Although a change in a pet’s mobility is life-changing, that doesn’t mean it has to be a life-ending one.

Many senior pets rely on the daily support of a rear dog wheelchair for continued mobility. Pet wheelchairs provide support and stability to keep your pet standing on all fours so that they can enjoy a happy, active life.

2. Senior Pets Can Experience Vision Loss

blind dog halo for large dogs

Changes in a pet’s eyesight are widespread when they get older. Many senior pets develop eye conditions like macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma. In many older pets, loss of sight occurs gradually and may only be noticeable once your pet begins to bump into walls and furniture or have a hard time finding their food. Pets experiencing vision loss and blindness will show other behavioral changes as well.

Older pets who suddenly become clingy or seem reluctant to jump off the couch may also be losing their vision. It’s important for senior dogs and cats to visit the vet at least every 6 to 9 months. Your veterinarian will check your pet’s vision and look for the subtler signs of sensory loss that you may not notice. 

3. Hearing Loss in Aging Pets

Hearing loss is another sensory change your senior pet may experience. Age-related hearing loss in dogs is usually gradual and typically occurs over several years. Unlike humans, who can be deafened by a loud noise, dogs are genetically prone to lose their hearing. A dog’s hearing is impaired when the hair cells located in the inner ear become damaged or die off. These hair cells pick up sound vibrations, and these nerves communicate sound to the dog’s brain. When these cells die, it disrupts that communication, causing deafness.

Early signs of hearing loss are hard to catch for pet parents since the signs may start with an inability to hear only certain tones and can also impact each ear differently. Even without hearing, dogs still rely strongly on their other senses, which makes it even harder to miss the signs of hearing loss. 

4. Behavioral Changes

corgi wheelchair

It’s common for there to be some noticeable changes in your elderly pet’s routine. Older pets need less exercise, and they may eat less often and sleep more.

Many older pets will move a bit slower and even struggle to get up off the ground after a long nap. These may be signs of joint pain, arthritis, or loss of leg strength. They can also be signs of mobility change in your dog or cat. Please pay attention to these behavioral changes and make sure to let your veterinarian know. They can help you to determine if your dog’s medical needs have changed since their last checkup. 

5. Health Changes in Senior Pets

Mobility loss, changes in an older pet’s behavior, and sensory changes are just a few of the health changes that elderly pets can experience. There are also many health conditions that occur only in older cats and dogs, such as:

  • Canine cognitive dysfunction, also known as dog dementia
  • Arthritis
  • Change in mobility due to hip dysplasia
  • Degenerative Myelopathy
  • Experience significant mobility loss

Pet parents with senior cats or dogs need to ensure that their pet gets the geriatric care they need. Senior pet health needs are significantly different of a younger pet. Your pet may require special food, joint supplements, a change in exercise routine, and special medication. If your pet is considered a “senior,” make an appointment with your veterinarian to ensure they get everything they need to stay healthy.

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