Taking Care Of Your Geriatric Pets


Dr. Bethany Brewer

With the marvels of modern veterinary medicine it’s no surprise that our small animal companions have a much longer life expectancy than they did even 20 years ago. It’s not uncommon for a dog or cat to live well into their teens! Preventative medicine such as annual vaccinations and heartworm prevention is becoming a gold standard of care and has a huge impact on why our animals are living so long.

I adopted my first dog when he was a spunky, obnoxious 12-week old puppy. This year we celebrated his 14th birthday and through the years I’ve watched him slow down. He has trouble seeing in the dark. He used to pop up and bark at any little sound but his impaired hearing means that he sleeps harder and often requires a soft pet in order to wake up from a nap. He sleeps a good portion of the day but is happy to go for a walk even though he tires quickly. He still reminds me about an hour before dinnertime that it’s almost time to eat.

Since our pets are living longer, we are seeing more age-related issues that come along with aging. Here are some tips on how to care for your elderly companion.

Annual Physical Exams and Bloodwork

While annual exams are important in pets of all ages, it’s even more crucial in animals that have hit middle age. Even if their appetite and demeanor haven’t changed. Most owners can tell when their pet can’t see as well in the dark or if they are having to yell their name in order to hear it. The things that the veterinarian checks for are things that cannot be seen or appreciated without knowing what to look for. Heart murmurs, kidney issues, and thyroid levels are just a few of the things that are picked up on annual exam and senior bloodwork. More often than not I can pick up a treatable medical issue that owners had no idea was even there. Our pets can’t verbally tell us what hurts so it’s up to us to be their voice.


Once your pet reaches that “senior” status, it’s advised to switch their food to a senior formula. These recipes are typically lower in salt, protein, and calories to take it easy on the aging kidneys. There are many different types of pet food and trying to pick the best one can make your head spin. Did you know there are special foods for many types of medical issues? Hyperthyroidism, arthritis, obese-prone, allergy-prone, sensitive tummies, heart disease, kidney disease, and many more! Our veterinarians are happy to provide nutritional counseling for your four-legged family member. Together we can pick the best food for your pet.

Weight Management

“Fat” does not equal “happy”! Overweight pets are MUCH more susceptible to diseases such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, and breathing difficulties. This is exceptionally important in large breed dogs prone to hip dysplasia. A 13-pound Chihuahua that should weigh 7 lbs. is the human equivalent of being 150 lbs. overweight. One french fry to a small dog is equal to an entire large-sized order of french fries to us. This is why it’s so easy to overfeed our pets.

Annual Dental Cleaning

This is especially true for cats and small dogs. Many owners think that their animals cannot have a painful mouth because are still eating normally. The truth is that the vast majority of animals will not stop eating even with a severely infected mouth! Pets with several broken teeth and a tooth root abscess happily take a treat from my hand. Bad breath is never normal. Older pets can safely be anesthetized for a thorough dental cleaning. Don’t hesitate to address any concerns at annual checkups.

Keep Them Comfortable

Some issues, such as osteoarthritis, are unavoidable no matter how hard we try to prevent it. This is a common age-related change. The good news is that it is manageable in several different ways! Adding an approved glucosamine supplement will help slow the arthritic changes as well as calm the existing inflammation within the joints. Laser therapy has helped many of our painful patients live more comfortably. Adding beds around the house, elevating food bowls, and providing slip-free surfaces for your pet to walk on will help those aging joints. Keeping nails trimmed will making walking a bit easier. Regular grooming will prevent matting and knots in longer fur. The saying in humans is “bodies in motion stay in motion” which reminds us that regular exercise will keep those joints from stiffening up. Older pets have a lower muscle mass than their younger counterparts so they tend to shiver and get cold more often. Sweaters can help with staying warm. If your pet has trouble getting up in the morning or not jumping up on the furniture anymore, they may be painful. Most over-the-counter pain medication for humans are toxic to dogs and cats but we have many options for managing pain with or without medication.

Remember that age is not a disease. Don’t accept abnormalities such as stiff joints, bad breath, and itchy skin as being normal for an older pet. We at Animal Care Center and Pet Care Center are here to help you keep your companion pet happy and healthy for a very long time to come.