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Common Ailments in Older Pets

Dogs and cats become are more likely to become ill and injured as they age.  Just like humans, their immune systems aren’t as strong as they once were, so it’s harder to fight off viruses and bacteria.

Normal wear and tear take its toll on muscles and bones, causing degeneration and painful conditions.

Below are some of the common health issues that are seen in older pets with various options of treatment.

Arthritis in Older Pets

Over the years, your pet’s joints start “drying out” and there’s less fluid to lubricate the bones.

Calcium deposits and cartilage build-up, causing inflammation and arthritis, especially in older large breeds of dogs, cats, and overweight pets.

Some breeds like Labradors are more prone to arthritis since they have hip dysplasia issues which can also result in arthritis.

When your dog’s gait starts to slow down or your cat has trouble jumping as much as she used to, the culprit is usually arthritis.

Arthritis Treatment Options

Some vets use anti-inflammatory medications and painkillers to treat arthritis.

You can also supplement your pet’s diet with glucosamine, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) and chondroitin to help lubricate joints and feed nutrients into the surrounding tissues.

Chondroitin sulfate has also been used more commonly to prevent stress injuries to joints as well as aiding in the repair of damaged connective tissue.

Hot tubs, whirlpools, and controlled swimming are great for dogs with arthritis. Short periods of increased warmth, interspersed with cold, can help decrease your dog’s aches and pains.

Hydrotherapy and other alternative therapy options are included in many pet insurance plans.

Older Pets with Colds and Influenza

sick dog and cat in bedAs our pets age, their immune systems become weaker immune which makes them more susceptible to the viruses that cause colds and influenza.

Older animals are also prone to complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis if they contract influenza.

Treatments for Colds and Influenza

If you keep up with your vet visits and make sure that your dogs and cats are appropriately vaccinated, it can help limit the risk of potentially fatal conditions.

Cataracts and Glaucoma in Older Pets

Eyesight deteriorates over time in dogs and cats, just as in humans.

A cataract occurs when the fibers within the eye become opaque, causing visual impairment.

Glaucoma is a condition where the fluid that fills the eyes is increased to the point that it causes pressure behind the eyes.

Glaucoma can be very painful because it damages the internal structure of the eyes and can eventually leading to blindness.

Cataracts and Glaucoma Treatment

Glaucoma is a painful condition that requires painkillers. A vet can sometimes remove cataracts. Both conditions become more difficult to treat the longer they remain undiagnosed.

Treatment depends on the cause and severity of glaucoma.

The main goal is to restore normal eye pressure; this can be achieved by decreasing fluid production and/or increasing fluid drainage.

Pain management is also an important part of the treatment. If there is an underlying disease causing glaucoma, it should be treated as well.

Some dogs and cats will need surgery to correct cataracts and/or glaucoma.

Deafness in Older Pets

Along with failing eyesight, older dogs’ and cats’ hearing deteriorates. It is just the natural progression of aging.

Temporary hearing loss can be caused by a wax build-up in your dog’s ear canals. This is especially common in dogs with narrow ear canals.

Occasionally a damaged eardrum can also cause deafness.

How to Treat Deafness

There is no treatment for deafness as it is inevitable in some cats and dogs.

However, what you can do to help your deaf dog or cat is to remember that your pets can’t hear you.  Hand gestures can be helpful to guide your pets and always be patient when you call your dog or cat when you forget that they have lost their hearing.

You need to become your dog’s “ears” when taking him for a walk since he or she is unable to hear on their own.

Dental Disease in Older Pets

Older pets become more susceptible to dental diseases as their gums weaken with age.

Periodontal disease can become even more prominent in older dogs and cats due to their weakening gums.

Loose or cracked teeth and the build-up of tartar accumulates in older pets, particularly if you haven’t keep up with dental care and annual vet visits.

Dental Disease Treatment and Prevention

The best treatment for dogs or cats of any age is to keep their teeth clean with regular brushing, a well-balanced diet, and access to chew toys.

And, of course, regular dental check-ups to catch any potential problems early.

Older Pets with Tumors, Lumps, and Cysts

Whether benign or cancerous, tumors, lumps, and cysts typically occur in older pets.

Some dogs and cats are more prone to tumors, but it’s important to have your vet look at any changes in your pet’s skin regardless of species.

If you notice anything irregular on your dog or cat’s fur, legs or any part of their bodies, you should take your pet to your vet immediately.

Some tumors are benign, but others can be indicative of other diseases like cancer.

Unfortunately, not all tumors occur on the surface — they can happen invisibly within your dog or cat’s body as well.

Treatment Options for Tumors, Lumps, and Cysts

Your vet can surgically remove some tumors and treat your pet with medication.

If there is a small cyst, apple cider vinegar is a great topical treatment that can help reduce the swelling.  However, apple cider vinegar is only used if the cyst is benign.

Having your pet spayed or neutered helps reduce the risk of cancer, especially within their sexual organs.

Final Thoughts on Health Issues in Older Pets

The most important part of pet health for dogs or cats of any age is care and attention.

As your pets grow older, make sure they’re still regularly vaccinated, treated for parasites and inspected for symptoms of potential problems.

Make sure to go to the vet at least once a year to keep your dog or cat healthy and to catch any condition or changes that might have occurred.

If you have enrolled your dog or cat in a pet insurance plan before any of these conditions occur, then you can rest assured that you can get your aging pet the best care he or she deserves and still be able to afford the cost.

As long as any of the health issues are not pre-existing, most of the care will be covered and that’s a financial relief to you.

Pet insurance can help your dog or cat stay healthy and gives them the best chance for a long, happy life.

If you are looking for more health issues that might occur in your pets, our dog and cat health glossary is a great place to start!

1 Comment
  1. Reply
    Andrea Robinson 11/16/2015 at 2:40 am

    This is a great topic of conversation for every pet owner. As your pet ages, his or her ability to handle certain stressors like hot and cold can fade. Your pet can’t tell you if he has muscle aches – he’ll just run as usual. You have to actually spot these issues many times. Don’t forget that a dog’s foot can pick up injuries and weaknesses as they age.

    I had a dog once who had a fractured leg even though there was no excessive or unusual activity. He was a rescued dog, and apparently his almost nonexistent nutrition as a puppy had made his bones extremely weak, which was no problem when he was in his prime. In fact, he used to jump over baby gates all the time and was known as Houdini for his ability to open dog crates from the inside.

    Anyway, when they age, they can’t always handle the kinds of activities that they loved when they were younger, just like grandpa can’t eat that super-spicy food he used to love (and insists that it’s bland, because he doesn’t have any taste buds left). So it’s up to us to keep an eye out.


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