Your Aging Pet: When to Get it to the Vet

Arthritis, hearing loss, poor vision are some of the signs your dog is getting old

By Catherine Miller

Like people, pets can benefit from a yearly exam to check their overall health. But there are times between the regular exam time that your pet may be acting a bit off and make you wonder if a vet is needed.

Aging animals are especially prone to increased medical issues, and it’s often difficult to determine which issues are due to the natural changes of aging and which changes are something that require medical attention.

So how do you decide when to get Fido into the car and jaunt him over to his favorite veterinarian? A bit of basic animal medical knowledge can help you watch for warning signs.

Watch the Water

Water intake is necessary for all animals, including your household pet. But watch for changes in your dog or cat’s regular drinking routine.

“Many diseases whether metabolic or infectious cause our pets to drink more water,” said veterinarian Lucas Kandefer of Southtowns Animal Hospital in West Seneca. “Withholding water can cause severe illness, worsening of disease or even death. If you notice an increase in water intake, prompt intervention from your veterinarian can help identify and manage many conditions.”

Dietary Changes

Anyone who has promptly changed their pet’s food probably already knows this is not a good idea. Rapid changes in diet can affect the stomach of any pet and older pets can be less tolerant to changes with resultant intestinal issues. To avoid issues, make all changes to the diet of your pet slowly.

As your pet ages, his caloric intake needs change also. Decreased activity and slowing metabolisms begin to take place after the age of 7, and any increase in weight could add to any arthritic changes that your aging pet is experiencing. You may wish to consider a “senior” version of your favorite pet food to keep those extra pounds at bay.

Weight loss on an aging animal may also be a medical warning sign. Your pet should not lose weight just because he is aging. If your pet has a healthy appetite, but is losing weight, talk to your veterinarian immediately. Many medical conditions could create such issues, and early detection is key to diagnosing and stabilizing the underlying cause.

Vision and Hearing Issues

Vision and hearing naturally degenerate with age — regardless of species. Hearing loss is especially common in aging pets. You may notice that your older cat or dog does not come as readily when called. Hearing loss is difficult for your vet to diagnosis and treat. It is recommended to begin to use hand signals when your pet is young. Canines especially benefit from the use of hand singles, and as they age this allows for continued interaction with your pet even if hearing loss progresses.

While some aging issues may cause small vision changes in your pet, minor visual issues are natural. If your pet shows signs of rapid vision loss such as bumping into walls or furniture, difficulty finding his toys, becoming startled easily or even general clumsiness, check with your doctor immediately. It could be a sign of another health-related issue. Acute blindness itself can sometimes be corrected with prompt treatment. Many dogs that do go blind accommodate to their surroundings with a bit of time and patience.

Is neutering a no-no in older animals?

Simply put — cats and dogs can be neutered at any age. Age itself does not increase the risk of anesthesia. Your vet will likely examine your animal to check for medical issues prior to the procedure, but even aging pets can benefit from being neutered.

Neutering may even be a good idea for your older pet. Intact female dogs are at risk for uterine infections and mammary cancer that increase each time they go through heat. Neutering can help with behavioral issues of male dogs and may decrease their risk for prostate disease and testicular tumors.

Urinary Incontinence

While urinary incontinence is most often seen in spayed female dogs as they age, there are often medical therapies that can help to improve the condition. If you find puddles of urine in the area where your pet has been lying, talk to your vet, who may be able to offer advice. If your cat has trouble making it to the litter box, it could be a behavioral issue or medically related. Talk to your vet to rule out medical problems, then place a number of litter boxes to make the trek to the box a bit easier.


Like humans, older pets, especially larger breed dogs, are prone to arthritis as they age. Your pet may show signs of difficulty standing, limping and trouble with stairs. You may find that your cat no longer is jumping up and down on the furniture with ease, and prefers to stay on one level of the house. This would be the time to talk to your vet regarding pain management, rehabilitation or possibly even acupuncture.

“Older pets, just like older people, are more prone to illness and diseases that can significantly affect comfort and quality of life,” said vet Kandefer, “Early intervention from your veterinarian can often greatly reduce the severity of many of these issues and improve comfort and quality of life for our aging pets.”

Overall, watch for changes in your pet’s routine and seek medical help when you are unsure of the causes of changes that you observe.