General Pet Guides
Every pet ages differently, but there are some common changes that occur as the body gets older. Here is a list of the most common things that develop in elderly pets.
- Loss of hearing. As dogs and cats age, the nerve cells and hearing apparatus degenerates, resulting in a slow loss of hearing.
- Loss of vision. The lens of the eye becomes cloudy with age. Natural changes result in lenticular sclerosis, which typically does not cause significant vision loss. However, cataracts may develop, which do interfere with vision.
- Decreased activity. As age progresses, the metabolic rate slows. This results in a decreased activity level.
- Weight gain. Elderly dogs and cats require 30-40% fewer calories. By eating a normal maintenance diet, obesity often develops.
- Infections. As the body ages, the immune system weakens, making it harder for dogs and cats to ward off infections.
- Skin changes. The skin often thickens and darkens with age.
- Loss of hair or whitening. Age causes hair to lose its normal pigment, turning white. The ability of the hair cells to regenerate also deteriorates and hair loss is common, often seen as patches of hair loss.
- Loss of skin elasticity. Old skin not only thickens, but also looses elasticity. The most visible sign of this is in male dogs and cats. The prepuce slowly becomes more pendulous as dogs and cats age.
- Change in feet and nails. Footpads begin to thicken and the nails become brittle, making it harder to trim the nails properly.
- Arthritis. Muscle, bone, and cartilage decrease with age. With less cartilage, the bones begin to scrape against one another, causing the pain of arthritis.
- Tooth loss. Dental calculus that develops over time eventually causes tooth loss. The teeth also begin to lose minerals, contributing to the tooth loss.
- Gastrointestinal upset. Over time, the stomach lining begins to deteriorate, and the level of digestive enzymes from the pancreas falls. The result can be more nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite, and/or diarrhea.
- Constipation. With age, the colon has more trouble moving fecal matter, which causes more frequent constipation.
- Less energy. As the lungs lose elasticity, the volume of the lung decreases. With less lung capacity, dogs and cats become tired more easily. In addition, the bone marrow becomes fatty and is not as functional as younger marrow. This results in a slow onset of anemia, which causes weakness and less ability to exercise.
- Incontinence. The kidney function and control over the urinary bladder sphincter slowly lessons, resulting in an increases incidence of urine leakage.
- Straining to urinate. In males that are not neutered, the prostate often enlarges with age. This causes some constriction of the urethra, resulting in some difficulty passing urine.
- Mammary cysts and tumors. Elderly female dogs and cats have a higher incidence of lumps, cysts and tumors within the mammary glands. This is more common in those that are not spayed.
- Loss of house training and litter box training. Over time, the cells within the brain slowly decrease. As the cells die, senility develops. A common occurrence with senility is a loss of house training.
- Heart murmurs. Heart valves scar and lose function as they age. This often results in heart murmurs, but usually does not cause a medical problem.
- Hair coat changes. In the senior dog and cat, the skin becomes dry and scaly. It loses luster and looks dull.
- Cancer. Unfortunately, cancer is a significant problem facing senior dogs and cats. Not all cancer needs to be fatal. Surgery, chemotherapy, even radiation therapy is available that can significantly extend your pet’s quality time or produce a cure. The prognosis depends on the type and location of the cancer.
- Behavioral and cognitive dysfunction. As dogs and cats age, they may become more “set in their ways,” more inflexible, less patient and more irritable. Sometimes they will forget learned behaviors – including normal urinary and defecation habits. Older dogs may sleep a lot more, and be less responsive to external stimuli. These signs may be related to underlying disease, or may be due to the gradual decline in their senses and cognition (thought process). Sometimes medication can help.
Your senior pet will need to see a Veterinarian when he or she:
- Drinks water or urinates more often than usual
- Loses weight
- Is unusually hungry
- Vomits repeatedly
- Has diarrhea lasting for more than three days
- Finds it difficult to pass stool or urine
- Forgets his litter box/house training habits
- Exhibits trouble seeing
- Develops open sores on the skin that persist for more than one week
- Develops a foul mouth odor or drools excessively
- Appears to gain weight only in abdomen
- Spends more time than usual sleeping or gazing into space
- Loses hair or scratches, especially if only in specific areas
- Is unable to eat dry food
- Collapses suddenly or has a bout of weakness
- Has a seizure (convulsion)
- Coughs or gags often
- Has bleeding form the mouth, nose or rectum
- Has a significant decrease in appetite or doesn’t eat for more than two days
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