Some age-related changes in pets are easy to identify because they are similar to ours, including vision loss, “selective hearing,” frequent naps, and a shuffling gait. Other signs may be less noticeable, or hard to distinguish from normal dog or cat behavior, but may signal a significant change in your pet’s health. Knowing what to look for can help you determine if your pet’s behavior warrants a trip to Town and Country Animal Hospital

#1: Your senior pet has a reduced or increased appetite

Senior pets may change their eating habits for benign, age-related reasons, including reduced caloric need, or an impaired sense of smell or taste. However, inappetence can have many medical causes that, left unattended, can lead to weight loss, poor body condition, nutritional deficiency, and serious health decline.

Increased appetite is less common, but equally important. Unchecked food intake quickly leads to obesity, and raises the risk for arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular issues. Senior pets who suddenly develop a voracious appetite may be indicating nutritional deficiency, disease, or cognitive impairment.

#2: Your senior pet is drinking and urinating more often

Your pet’s thirst and urine output provide valuable insight into their internal health. While water intake can fluctuate because of external factors, such as ambient temperature or physical exertion, notable increases in your pet’s thirst (i.e., polydipsia) or urination (i.e., polyuria) can signal a serious issue. Common causes include kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus, urinary tract infections, and Cushing’s disease.

If your pet’s thirst and urination have increased, schedule an appointment at Town and Country Animal Hospital. Concurrent signs may include house soiling, painful urination, abnormal urine color or odor, bloody urine, lethargy, or appetite changes.

#3: Your senior pet’s personality has changed

By the time your pet reaches their double digits, you know all their quirks and habits, which can make uncharacteristic mood swings, irritability, anxiety, or isolation alarming. Before you dismiss their behavior as old-age grouchiness, recognize that arthritis pain, sensory loss, physical illness, and cognitive dysfunction (i.e., dementia) are commonly to blame.

#4: Your senior pet is having accidents in the house

Although your senior pet may appear to have forgotten their house training, fecal or urinary incontinence can be caused by pain (e.g., urinary tract infection, inability to enter the litter box), kidney disease, diabetes, physical weakness, loss of muscle or sphincter tone, nerve damage, diet, or bladder or rectum changes (e.g., tumor, urinary stones, anal gland abscess). Pets with cognitive dysfunction may forget to eliminate outside or in their litter box, and may urinate or defecate in front of their owner. While occasional incidents may be accidents, repeated house soiling warrants a physical exam.

#5: Your senior pet is disinterested in normal exercise and activity

Your pet’s interest and activity level will naturally change with age, but they should still be engaged in their surroundings. If your pet repeatedly declines your invitations to play or walk, they may be struggling with their mobility or strength. Timely veterinary intervention and pain management are crucial, as prolonged inactivity leads to muscle wasting, increased joint stiffness, and further restricted mobility.

Once your senior pet’s pain is under control, your veterinarian can provide low-impact exercise recommendations.

#6: Your senior pet has stopped grooming or is excessively grooming

Changes to your pet’s grooming habits are strong indications your pet is ill. Senior cats may neglect routine grooming because of arthritis pain, dental disease, hyperthyroidism, and diabetes. Overweight pets may be unable to reach their genital area, which causes hair matting and skin irritation.

Excessive grooming can be caused by external parasites, joint pain, allergies, boredom, anxiety, and cognitive dysfunction. Left untreated, overgrooming can result in self-trauma, skin infection, and injury.

#7: Your senior pet seems disoriented or forgetful

A senior pet who appears dazed and confused may be having more than a “senior moment.” Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is a degenerative neurological condition that affects elderly dogs and cats, and is similar to Alzheimer’s disease in people. Pets with CDS may also demonstrate disorientation, altered sleep and wake cycles, changes in personality, house soiling, and anxiety. 

Help for your senior pet

When subtle changes in your pet’s daily routine go unnoticed, health problems can seem sudden and unexpected. The best way to anticipate your senior pet’s shifting needs is a twice-yearly physical examination at Town and Country Animal Hospital. More frequent exams and screening tests allow us to identify patterns and trends in your pet’s physical condition, and to recommend advanced diagnostics, such as blood work, urinalysis, or X-rays, to look for underlying disease. 

Although many age-related conditions are progressive, many can be managed with medication, environmental modification, and alternative therapies (e.g., laser therapy), if diagnosed in the early stages. If you see any concerning signs in your senior pet, schedule an appointment at Town and Country Animal Hospital, and let us help restore their quality of life.