Senior Cat and Dog Wellness: 7 Things You Should Know

September is Senior Pet Wellness Month, which makes it the perfect time to brush up on the most important health and behavior tips for aging cats and dogs. Whether you're caring for an old pet now or want to be prepared when yours reaches senior status, check out this roundup of facts from our team of animal experts.

Senior Pet Wellness

Senior Golden Retriever


When Does a Pet Become Senior?

To know how best to care for your senior pet, it's important to understand when a cat or dog becomes a senior. There's no exact formula that fits every pet — a Great Dane is generally considered senior much earlier than a Chihuahua, for example.

In a recent poll, our readers said they thought giant breeds became senior around 7 years old — but the majority of our veterinary professionals said 5 years old. We saw the same trend when it came to cats: The highest percentage of readers considered cats senior at 11, while the largest group of veterinary professionals said 9.

Read more: Aging Pets: Senior, Geriatric and What It All Means to Experts and Readers

raised food dishes for pets

Helpful Products for Older Pets

As pets age, mobility issues or arthritis may make it difficult for them to access food, water, beds and — especially important for cats — litterboxes. There are some simple solutions to these issues, though: Raised food dishes mean senior pets don't have to bend down to eat or drink, for example, and pet stairs and ramps can help support their joints when getting onto a bed or into the car.

Read more: "Catification" for Senior Pets and 10 Life-Improving Products for Senior Dogs

Senior Dog at Vet


Visiting the Veterinarian

If you've always taken your pet in for checkups once a year, it may be time to talk with your veterinarian about scheduling twice-yearly visits for your senior pet. Dr. Marty Becker (among other veterinarians) recommends that senior pets see their veterinarians every six months, giving the vets a better opportunity to check for dental problems and fine-tune pets' diet and exercise plans. Catching health problems early will hopefully give your cat or dog the best shot at his healthiest possible old age.

Read more: Work With Your Veterinarian to Make Your Senior Pet's Golden Years Healthy

Closeup of Cat


Signs of Cognitive Dysfunction

You may notice some physiological changes in your senior pet that remind you of the symptoms of senility in humans. Your cat or dog could have a condition called cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Signs include disorientation, walking aimlessly, getting "stuck" in corners, changes in usual interactions, disrupted sleeping patterns and anxiety.

Talk with your veterinarian if you start to notice these or other changes in your pet's routine. She may recommend a variety of tests to rule out other medical problems before diagnosing your pet with CDS, or she may enlist the help of a veterinary neurologist.

Read more: Is Your Kitty Confused? 4 Signs of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome and 4 Signs of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Senior Pug


Treating Aches and Pains

Many animals hide their pain as a form of self-defense, so it can sometimes be tricky to tell when your senior pet is suffering. Common signs of pain include lethargy, difficulty jumping up and down, obsessively licking or grooming a particular area and a reluctance to be petted.

It's normal for older pets to slow down as they reach senior status, but a sudden drop in physical activity could signal a painful condition. If you're not sure what the best form of physical activity is for your senior pet, just ask your veterinarian. A meandering walk around the neighborhood for your dog or a gentle game of batting at a feather for your cat could be just what the doctor ordered.

Read more: Treating Your Senior Pet's Aches and Pains

Adopting a Senior Cat


Adopting a Golden Oldie

Thinking about a new dog or cat? Bonus points for anyone who adopts a senior pet and gives her a loving forever home in her golden years. Prior to your new cat's or dog's arrival, it's a good idea to minimize slippery surfaces, install litterboxes with low sides and restrict access to high-risk areas like stairs. The good news about bringing home an older pet is that many senior adoptees are already housebroken.

Read more: What You Need to Know About Adopting a Senior Pet

Senior Beagle


Solving Behavior Problems

If your aging pet starts to wake you up in the night or have accidents in the house, don't assume that he's simply being bad. The first step is to visit your veterinarian to make sure there's not an underlying health problem causing behavior issues. (Perhaps your cat is missing the litterbox because his arthritis keeps him from climbing inside it.) Always check with your veterinarian first before trying to come up with a training solution to what could be a health problem.

Read more: Common Behavior Problems in Senior Dogs

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