Senior Pet Health: How Dogs and Cats Age

January 24, 2019

How do we extend our animal companion’s lives and make them as healthy and happy for as long as possible?  It is very important to understand that aging itself is not a disease.  It’s a complex biological process driven by your pet’s genetics, environmental factors, nutrition, lifestyle and stress level.

Signs of Aging

First, we need to understand our pet’s life stages. Particularly, when they enter their senior years and the decline of their physical condition, organ function, sensory and mental function and immune response. Just like humans, this is when the risk of health issues such as arthritis, cancer, kidney disease, heart disease, liver disease, thyroid conditions and diabetes increases. Pets age much the same as we do but at an accelerated rate. To help offset the faster aging process and detect age-related diseases and conditions early, most veterinarians recommend healthy senior dogs and cats be examined every six months. The earlier your pet’s health problems are identified, the more options you and your veterinarian have to cure them, slow their progression or help keep them comfortable.

How do you know when your pet is reaching this milestone in life? This chart, provided by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), provides a great guideline.

Age: Human Equivalents for older pets


One of the first things to expect when your pet reaches its senior years are degenerative changes like arthritis. He may not be able to walk as far or play as long and might tire more easily. He may have difficulty getting up or finding a comfortable position to sleep in and become reluctant to go up and down stairs or get in and out of the car.  Work with your veterinarian to determine what can be done to help your pet with these changes.

Age Related Changes

Do not give human pain medications to your pet without first consulting your veterinarian. Some human products, including over-the-counter medications (such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen), can be fatal for pets. Over-the-counter pet supplements, containing either glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate or Omega fatty acids may help relieve the symptoms of arthritis in dogs.

Other signs seen by owners and associated with aging might actually be health problems.  These signs include bad breath, cognitive changes, reduced appetite, drinking more than normal, urinating more often and urine leakage.  Dismissing these signs can result in a missed opportunity to help your pet. If you notice any of the above symptoms or other changes in your pet’s normal behavior, report them to your veterinarian as quickly as possible



Tom Edling




Meet Petland’s Consulting Veterinarian, Dr. Thomas Edling, DVM, MSpVM, MPH:

Dr. Edling received his BS in Industrial Engineering from Texas A&M University in 1981 and his degree in Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from Colorado State University. He previously served as Vice President of Veterinary Medicine for Petco and was on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. In addition, Dr. Edling completed the American Board of Veterinary Practitioner’s residency program for Companion and Wild Avian Medicine and Surgery, at North Carolina State University, where he also received his Master in Specialized Veterinary Medicine (MSpVM) in 2001. In 2011, Dr. Edling completed the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at Johns Hopkins University. As a veterinarian, Dr. Edling works closely with the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV).

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