What Every Pet Owner Should Know About Their Older Pet


“Lumps and Bumps” are common occurrences as both pets and people age. Usually in dogs, these masses are benign cysts and fatty deposits. In cats, any lump should be aspirated. Bleeding, raised, red or darkly pigmented masses should be a cause for concern in any pet. We often recommend fine-needle aspiration and pathology review of any suspicious mass.

Musculoskeletal System

Obesity is defined as being 15% above a cat or dog’s optimal weight. Nearly 50% of all pets are overweight and about 15% are obese. Increased weight increases the chances that your pets will develop diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and more. We will calculate your pet’s optimal weight and design a weight loss program to suit your pet’s lifestyle.

Arthritis is a very common disease in elderly dogs and cats. Clinical signs include limping, reluctance to walk or exercise, decreased appetite and pain when the leg(s) are touched. Oddly, very few pets will cry out or even moan despite significant discomfort. Bone tumors are somewhat rare but are often indistinguishable from arthritis. Any swellings or hard masses should be brought to the veterinarian’s attention immediately. Most arthritic pain can be managed with oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory mediations such as Rimadyl or Deramaxx for dogs.


Cataracts are a common age-related eye disorder in our pets. The vast majorities of cataracts are hereditary and develop around 8-10 years of age. You may notice a gray or bluish hue in the center of the eye. We occasionally recommend surgical removal of the cataract to preserve vision. Glaucoma, which is defined as increased pressure in the eye, is another cause of blindness in pets. The most common clinical signs are rubbing at the eyes, pressing the head against objects, a swollen appearance to the eye and/or redness and irritation. “Dry Eye” is a disorder of the eyes characterized by redness and irritation of the conjunctiva with occasional corneal ulceration. This disease is caused by decreased tear production and is treatable with daily medication.


Hearing loss is common as dogs and cats age. The higher and lower frequencies are often lost first with complete loss of hearing occurring in many patients. Ear canal polyps, tumors and infections are also more common in the older pet. Signs of ear problems include frequent shaking of the head, pawing at the ears and head and/or bleeding or discharge from the ears.


Gingivitis and periodontal disease are the most common oral diseases we see. Infection of the teeth and gums affects over 40% of all older pets. Poor oral health can decrease your pet’s life expectancy by 2-4 years. Additionally, loose teeth, swollen infected gums and cervical neck lesions are painful! Bad breath, bleeding and swollen gums, discolored, missing or loose teeth are some of the common clinical signs. Proper home dental care including feeding Prescription Diet t/d, brushing and rinsing is the best prevention. Ultrasonic dental scaling and polishing is the only method to remove accumulations of tartar and mineralized calculus beneath the gums.

Heart and Lungs

Ten-percent of all dogs and cats will develop heart disease during their lifetime. Decreased stamina and activity levels, coughing (especially at night) and difficulty breathing are common symptoms of heart disease in dogs. Cats can develop several types of heart disease, but it can be more difficult to diagnose due to the lack of clinical signs. Signs can include difficulty breathing or coughing, vomiting and weight loss. A thorough physical examination including chest x-rays, cardiac ultrasound, blood pressure and routine blood tests can help us to detect heart disease early in its course. Heart disease can often be successfully treated with diet, proper exercise and medications. Diagnosed early, most pets continue to enjoy a normal lifestyle.

Kidney and Liver

Kidney disease is the leading cause of death in geriatric cats, second only to cancer. In dogs, it is the reverse. Kidney and liver disease account for almost one-fourth of all geriatric deaths. High-protein diets, environmental toxins, trauma and heredity are the leading causes of kidney and liver disease. The most common clinical signs are increased thirst and urination, decreased appetite and vomiting. Treatment varies from changes in diet to home fluid therapy. If detected early through blood and urine tests, we can often prolong life expectancy and maintain a high quality of life. It is very important that all older pets have yearly blood tests to detect kidney and liver disease.


Hyperthyroidism is defined as an overactive thyroid gland and occurs most often in cats. This disease is increasing in North America and can only be diagnosed through blood tests. Hyperthyroidism can cause heart; liver, and kidney damage, therefore early detection is critical. Cats that are losing weight despite a normal to increased appetite, experience chronic vomiting or diarrhea, have increased thirst and/or urination, have difficulty breathing or have a dry, dull hair coat should be tested for thyroid disease. There are several safe and effective treatments.


Hypothyroidism is a common problem in middle aged and geriatric dogs, and is caused by a decreased level of thyroid function. Signs include weight gain, changes in hair coat and decreased activity level. Hypothyroidism is easily treated with daily medication.


Cats and dogs get diabetes just like people! Signs of diabetes include drinking more water and urinating more frequently, weight loss, dull hair coat, vomiting, and more. Blood and urine tests to detect high “blood sugar” or glucose levels are used to detect diabetes. For most cases, treatment is effective. If left untreated, diabetes can quickly progress and cause irreversible organ damage.


Cancer is very common in geriatric pets, and is one of the leading causes of death in geriatric dogs. Many forms of cancer are treatable with surgery and chemotherapy. Maintaining a good quality of life is often the goal of cancer therapy.

*Nutritional Needs of Senior Pets

We recommend a specially formulated senior diet for all patients “over 40.” This diet is designed to provide a senior pet’s special needs: Reduced fat and protein content, increased dietary fiber and reduced calories. A good diet is essential for health and longevity.

*Emotional Needs of Senior Pets

Older pets need more interaction and affection than adult pets. They must also be closely monitored for changes in their behavior. Older pets are at risk for developing Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS), a form of senility or dementia. Phobias, fears, and house soiling are also common in older pets. If your older pet experiences any of these problems, there is often medical help available. Contact us for more information.

Together, you and the doctors and staff at Aztec Animal Clinic can make your pets’ Senior Years the Best Years!