Cats and dogs are now living longer, healthier lives due to advances in veterinary care. In this day and age it is not unheard of for a cat to live into its twenties or a dog to live beyond 15. Providing good health care throughout all the stages of your pet’s life is the best means of assuring an optimum lifespan. Early detection and early treatment of disease are particularly important in older animals.

Aging is a natural process and changes may occur in body metabolism, hormone balance, and sensory perception. Physical and behavioral signs may reflect some of these bodily changes. You may observe physical signs such as cloudiness of the eyes; a thinning coat; decreased tolerance of the cold; prominent spine and hips; arthritis and joint stiffness; graying of the muzzle; muscle atrophy; and deafness. Behaviorally, an older pet may sleep more, become less active, and may seem more irritable.

A senior pet (one that is more than eight years old) may benefit from the following lifestyle modifications:

Dietary Changes

You may need to feed fewer calories as your senior pet becomes less active. Regularly weigh your pet and if he becomes overweight, talk to your veterinarian about changing the diet. On the flip side, a pet that is losing weight may need a more palatable diet because of his decreased senses of smell and taste. A dietary change may also be necessary if your pet develops diabetes, heart disease, or kidney disease. It’s also recommended to raise your senior pet’s food bowls to allow for easier digestion as your pet eats.


Regularly engaging your senior pet in moderate play can promote muscle tone, increase blood circulation, and improve gastrointestinal mobility. During times of exercise, be alert to labored breathing or rapid tiring as this may suggest your pet has a disease. Notify your veterinarian if these symptoms appear.


Brushing stimulates blood circulation and sebaceous-gland secretions in the skin, creating a healthier skin and hair coat. While you are grooming your senior pet, look for unusual lumps, skin lesions, or external parasites. If you notice any of these, your pet should be examined by your veterinarian.

Dental Care

Home dentistry consists of gently rubbing your senior pet’s teeth with a piece of gauze or specially designed toothbrush and paste designed for pets. Teeth cleaning should be performed on a regular basis so it becomes a routine for both you and your pet.


Pay particular attention to changes in your senior pet’s behavior and alert your veterinarian to any changes as they may be significant. It is also suggested to monitor a senior pet’s urine and feces as changes may be a sign of illness.

Health Care

A senior pet should have semi-annual heath examinations in order for your veterinarian to notice early symptoms of some common diseases that could affect your pet. Talk to your veterinarian about special tests for senior pets. Typically, a senior pet should have the following checks:

• Comprehensive medical exam-a head to tail physical exam to thoroughly assess your pet’s overall condition.

• Complete blood count-a test to evaluate the status of your pet’s red and white blood cells, which transport oxygen and fight infections.

• Serum biochemical profile-a group of tests that examine the health of your pet’s kidneys and liver and screens for cancers.

• Urinalysis-a urine test that keeps tabs on how healthy the kidneys are and whether there are any early signs of diabetes or other diseases.

• EKG-this optional test checks the condition of your pet’s heart muscle.

If your senior pet is in need of a specialist or has an emergency, CARE Hospital (California Animal Referral and Emergency) operates a 24-hour clinic. Located on 301 E. Haley St., CARE Hospital can be reached any time at 899-2273. I can speak from personal experience that CARE Hospital consistently provides excellent care for my senior pet who suffers from inflammatory bowel disease. A Pet Chat reader wrote to me about her experience there:

My puppy had such a wonderful experience at CARE Hospital in Santa Barbara that I would like to share the story to bring CARE the praise and press it deserves.

Eight weeks ago my puppy Coco became ill. After two days at the vet’s office, they were uncertain about her diagnosis, and we were heading into a weekend when the vets would not be on hand to care for her. Our arrival at CARE was somewhat different from that of most patients, as we did not arrive in a trauma state, but with a very sick puppy with a very thick chart full of records. Dr. Wells’s expertise and her calming and reassuring manner helped us move forward with decisions for Coco’s care that were extremely difficult. All of the CARE staff continually displayed patience, sensitivity, and genuine concern. They are not only professional and talented doctors and staff members, but individuals completely devoted to animals, and to those who love them. I am continually humbled by our experience at CARE, and just overwhelmed with gratitude for all they have done.

Very truly yours,

Denise Glesby


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