National Pet Month – Caring for older pets


With modern advances in veterinary care, medicine and nutrition our pets are living much longer than ever before which is great news. A cat may be considered as a senior at around 9-11 years old and a rabbit at around 4-5 years old,  dogs, may be considered senior at varying ages depending on their species and size, for example, a Great Dane is a senior at 5 years old, where as a chihuahua would be a senior at 10-11 years old.

Some pets may require a little extra help once they reach their senior years, so here are a few things to think about if you have an older pet at home.

Grooming – Older pets are often not as flexible as their younger counterparts so they may need help to keep their coats in good condition. Daily brushing will help remove dead fur and mats as well as promoting good circulation in the skin. Because older pets tend to exercise a little less, their nails/claws may grow long and cause problems, so you may need to have their claws/nails clipped on a regular basis; this is something you can do at home and a veterinary nurse will be happy to show you how.

Ramps and Steps – These can help your pet with access to places such as the car, a favourite windowsill or perch or even onto your bed, if that is where they normally sleep.

Warmth – Senior pets tend to feel the cold a bit more. Dog coats are a great idea for thin coated breeds and extra bedding should be provided if necessary. Older rabbits and guinea pigs may be more comfortable if their hutch is brought inside during cold weather snaps.

Toileting – Older pets may need more frequent opportunities to go to the toilet, especially if they have any health issues that lead to them drinking more. Cats will benefit from an indoor litter tray, especially if they are not keen on going outside very often. A wide, shallow tray rather than a narrow, deep tray is often appreciated.

Routine – Pets are creatures of habit throughout their lives and it is important to try and stick to their routine as much as possible as far as walking, play and feeding times go.

Dietary advice for older pets

Some people may think that senior pet diets are a marketing ploy, but rest assured that they are not. Older pets need a diet that is formulated to their needs and is easily digestible.

  1. Calories – The metabolism of dogs slows down as they age and they are often doing less exercise so they need a lower calorie diet to prevent weight gain. Cats actually slightly need more calories as they get older, so their diets are little more calorific, however, if your cat is overweight a lower calorie option should be chosen. The majority of rabbits need fewer calories as they get older due to being less active, however, some rabbits tend to experience weight loss as they age so these will need a higher calorie diet.
  2. Antioxidants and Essential Fatty Acids – Senior pet foods are often higher in antioxidants and EFAs, which help maintain and support the bodies organs and immune system.
  3. Higher quality protein – This will help your pet to maintain muscle mass. this also helps improve the taste of the food for picky senior eaters.
  4. Some diets are specially developed for pets that may have one or more of the common age related diseases such as heart disease or kidney failure.

When changing to a senior diet remember to change the food gradually over 7-10 days by mixing the two foods together and reducing the old food while increasing the new food. This will help your pet get used to the new food and avoid any tummy upsets.


It is very important for older pets to maintain mobility and joint function. Remember that just because they are getting old, does not mean that they should not be as fit as possible and age is no excuse for obesity. For pets that cannot be exercised as often as they used to be mental stimulation with toys and gentle games will help keep them from getting bored.

Finn is still climbing hills and mountains at 12 years old.

Finn is still climbing hills and mountains at 12 years old.

Health problems 

Older pets, just like older people,  are more likely to suffer from health problems and diseases associated with age, these can include heart disease, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism (cats), dental disease, diabetes and joint problems to name a few. Symptoms to look out for include

  • Changes in behaviour (more lethargic, irritable, aggressive, vocal etc)
  • Changes in appetite or thirst
  • Changes in weight (gain or loss)
  • Changes in their coat condition
  • Less Mobility
  • Changed toileting habits (more or less frequent, indoor toileting, spraying, diarrhoea, constipation, pain)
  • Slowing down a bit
  • Stiff on rising or after resting
  • Lame after going for a walk
  • Reluctant to exercise
  • Coughing
  • Panting after very little exertion
  • More reluctant to jump onto furniture or down from your lap
  • Sleeping more often or waking in the night
  • Lumps and bumps in the skin
  • Licking at a particular area of the body
  • Changes in their sight (bumping in to things, squinting, cloudy eyes)
  • Dental problems (plaque/tartar, sore gums, blood in water bowl, bad breath, pain on eating)

Please don’t just brush these symptoms off as inevitable signs of old age and ignore them. Once the veterinary surgeon knows what is causing your pet’s symptoms of ageing we are in a much better position to help him or her feel much better. Appropriate changes of diet, exercise regimes, medication and even surgical treatment can all help give your pet increased comfort and longevity.


Older animals also tend to be less active in general, but in some cases this may be due to arthritis which can be a very painful condition and one that is often ignored by owners. Arthritis causes pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints and can be caused by deterioration of the joint with age or as a result of a previous injury. If you notice that your pet is reluctant to move about or jump up to favourite places, is lame after exercise or stiff on rising then he or she is likely to be in pain. Please speak to your vet, who can provide medication for arthritis and many owners are amazed how active their pets become again. Other therapies that can help with joint problems and arthritis include Physiotherapy, Hydrotherapy, Veterinary Acupuncture and nutraceuticals (dietary supplements to help with joint function or general health).

Senior Pet Clinics

At Castle Vets we offer free nurse advice clinics (by appointment) so that you can discuss any concerns you may have about your pet as he or she ages. Our nurses can give you advice on general care, the correct diet and alternative therapies and refer you to the vet if necessary.


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