How to Care for Aging Pets: Spotting Signs of Illness and Ensuring Quality of Life

old cat, chronic kidney disease

Looking after pets takes a lot of commitment and devotion – and as they age, this can increase as they may need more of our help. But by keeping a close eye on them and supporting their additional needs, our pets can continue to lead happy and healthy lives well into their golden years.

Arthritisdementia and most cancers are all more prevalent in older pets. They are also at risk of other diseases like diabetes, kidney and liver problems and hormone imbalances as they age. A check-up at the vet every six months, even if they seem healthy, will help ensure any illnesses your pet might be developing are spotted at an early stage, this way, there’s a better chance of successful treatment or management of many conditions.

PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing explains that many of the ailments old age pets can suffer from are similar to those we might expect to get ourselves.

“It’s incredibly common for our pets to start to slow down as they reach their senior years,” she shares. “But there’s quite often a medical reason for this. With regular vet check-ups and a little extra care and observation, we can identify, diagnose and manage illnesses that could otherwise affect their quality of life.

“It’s important pet owners don’t dismiss signs of disease as inevitable parts of ageing. Stiffness, tiredness and changes to eating, drinking and toileting habits are just some of the symptoms that may mean there’s a problem and it’s important to speak to your vet to see what you can do to alleviate symptoms and help your pet.”

Signs your older pet may be unwell can be subtle, especially as some symptoms may be slow to develop. In older pets, there are some signs that it’s good to keep an eye out for:

  • Stiffness when standing up or walking, limping or the way in which they move in general may look uncomfortable
  • Loss of confidence (taking longer or hesitating to jump up or down from steps or furniture)
  • Changes in weight or body shape (i.e. unexplained loss or gain)
  • Changes in energy levels (most often tiredness, but an unusual increase in activity can also be a sign of illness)
  • Changes in appetite (most often off their food, but being ravenous all the time is also a sign)
  • Drinking more
  • Changes to toileting habits (e.g. incontinence, constipation or diarrhoea, going to the toilet more than usual or toileting in unusual places)
  • Bad breath or sweet-smelling breath
  • New lumps, bumps or swellings
  • Unusual discharge from the eyes, nose or back end
  • Seeming confused
  • Barking or meowing at night
  • Eye changes; looking cloudy, bulging or discolouration

If your pet shows any of these symptoms, no matter what their age, it is worth getting them checked by a vet to get any health problems treated. Treatments and management can include medication or surgery, as well as changes to your pet’s routine, diet or environment (like offering ramps for pets with arthritis, or medicating and feeding diabetic pets at specific times).

It’s important to remember that many pets stay very healthy through later life, but spotting problems early often means treatment is more effective.

Nina adds: “Even if your pet does develop an illness in old age, many can be treated or managed, ensuring they can lead a happy life. So if you notice any changes, or if you’re worried about your pet’s health, take them to your vet as soon as possible to ensure that your pet doesn’t have to suffer with painful or uncomfortable, yet often treatable conditions.”

PDSA is the UK’s largest vet charity providing a vital service for pets across the UK whose owners struggle to afford treatment costs for their sick and injured pets. For many vulnerable pets, PDSA is there to help when there is nowhere else for their owners to turn. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information.

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