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CRITTER CHATTER: Caring for Senior Pets

The Paw Print

Essential Pet Blog

Small older dog laying on gray blanket with glasses. Critter Chatter Caring for Senior Pets

“But now the days grow short. I’m in the autumn of the year, and now I think of my life as vintage wine from fine old kegs.” -It Was a Very Good Year; Frank Sinatra

Improved veterinary care and better-quality pet products promote longer, healthier lives of animals more than ever before. One consequence, however, is that veterinarians and owners are confronted with a whole new set of age-related conditions. Geriatric pets can develop many of the same problems that are seen in older people including cancer; heart, kidney, urinary tract and liver disease; diabetes; joint and bone disorder; and senility.

Cats and small dogs are generally considered “seniors” at age 7. Larger breed dogs tend to have shorter life spans and are considered geriatric at 6 years of age. But, just like humans, there are ways to promote pets’ well-being and vigor and even extend their lives.

Geriatric pets should have a complete veterinary examination twice yearly so any abnormalities can be detected early and treated. This senior exam should include a complete blood profile, urinalysis and dental assessment to detect tartar buildup, loose teeth or oral tumors.

Dental health

Dental health is of particular importance as your pet ages. Regular brushing helps prevent tartar buildup, gingivitis and other conditions of the oral cavity that may affect overall health. There are many specialty foods, water additives, hard biscuits and chew toys that complement brushing and help promote oral health.


Good nutrition is essential because older animals require pet foods that are more readily digested, contain lower calories and are enhanced with anti-aging nutrients, such as probiotics, glucosamine, omega fatty acids, and DHA. It is important that higher protein levels be consumed to compensate for decreased nutrient assimilation of aging intestinal tracts. High dietary proteins do not cause kidney disease.

Weight management

Weight management is important because obesity decreases pets’ lifespan, increases the risk of the various cancers and metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, and puts added stress on aging joints. Recent data from the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention indicates that almost 53% of dogs are overweight or obese.

As with older people, exercise helps keep pets healthier, more mobile and slimmer. Just don’t get carried away with the duration and intensity of the exercise program, and remember to be watchful of hot pavements and humid weather conditions. There are many functional pet supplements containing glucosamine, chondroitin, MSN, vitamin C, and omega-3 fatty acids to help maintain healthy joints and support joint function.

Mental Stimulation

Keep life interesting by stimulating them through interactions and activities that help keep them mentally active. Pets can show signs of senility, so watch for any unusual changes in their behavior, such as barking at imaginary objects or appearing confused or forgetful. Watch for any loss of vision or hearing that could affect their sense of being.

I was born three-quarters of a century ago and have been a veterinarian for half a century. Even though I don’t think of myself as vintage wine from old kegs, I try to eat well, brush and floss my teeth daily, manage my weight, exercise often and engage my mind. And I do the same for my senior Goldendoodle Charlotte. OK, maybe I don’t floss her teeth.

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a vet and his dogABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Brown holds a Doctorate Degree in Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from the University of California at Davis, a Master of Science Degree in Animal Science and Bachelor of Science Degree in Animal Physiology from the University of California.  Following discharge from the Air Force as a Captain, he owned and operated the largest veterinary hospital on Cape Cod for almost twenty years. Brown is the past President of the Yavapai Humane Society Board of Directors, Branding Committee Chairman for National Animal Supplement Council and member of the American Veterinary Medical Association.  He writes and lectures frequently on the benefits of natural and organic foods and supplements for animals and lives with his wife and a Golden doodle named Charlotte.

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