How to care for pets when they grow old

The ageing process makes our pets more fragile and, as they get older, small health problems can start to crop up. Of course, it's important to consider getting your pet insurance sorted as early as possible, as this could help to cover the bill for treatments that are required, but there are lots of things you can do to keep your pet in better health during its senior years. Here are some of the ways you can care for your pet's needs throughout its life, and make sure he or she is healthy, happy and comfortable well into old age.

Signs of ageing and common ailments

As a pet owner, it's your responsibility to make your pet's golden years as comfortable and happy as possible. Cats are considered senior from around the age of 8 to 10 years, while with dogs, different breeds are classed as senior at different ages. Smaller or toy dogs age much more slowly, with many living well into their teens, while bigger dogs can be classed as old at a much lower age. The BBC website has a handy age calculator to help you work out whether your dog falls into the senior category, although paying close attention to your cat or dog will help you spot classic signs such as greying around the muzzle, reduced hearing and vision, slower movement and stiffer joints. Below are a few common ailments to watch out for.

Sight/hearing loss

As cats and dogs get older, their senses might not be as sharp as they once were, and vision and hearing can become impaired. Just like humans, pets can develop cataracts – when the lens of the eye clouds over and become white and opaque – which require surgery to correct. If you spot signs of cataracts, then it's best to get your pet treated early on. This is not to be confused with lenticular sclerosis, a cloudy bluish-coloured lens that develops as part of the natural aging process in dogs and cats, which does not require treatment. Hearing often fades as dogs and cats age – there are many causes of hearing loss, such as parasites, a build-up of wax or an obstruction of the ear canal, so it's important to get your pet checked by a vet if it's showing any sign of deafness. Loss of vision can be confusing and frightening for your pet – be sure to keep toys, bedding and food dishes in the same place, so he or she knows where to find them. For commands, try replacing visual cues with vocal cues. The opposite is true for hearing loss – swap vocal cues for visual cues and be careful when approaching an animal that cannot hear you, as you may startle it.


Your cat or dog may show signs of slowing down generally, and may require less exercise as the years go by. He or she may also develop joint stiffness, and arthritis is a very common condition among aging pets. Some of the signs of arthritis include reduced mobility and limping, snapping if the affected area is touched, or excessive chewing or licking of the part of the body that's affected. If your pet is showing signs of arthritis, get it treated by a vet. There are several things you can do at home to add to their comfort, though, such as keeping food and water dishes easily accessible, taking dogs on shorter, less vigorous walks and keeping bedding for cats low and easy to reach.

Incontinence/bladder problems

As your pet ages, they may experience a loss of bladder control – this may show in the form of bedwetting. A number of factors can cause incontinence in pets, including a urinary tract infection, so if your pet is having accidents around the house, you should get him or her checked out by a vet.

Behaviour changes

There are a number of things that might affect your dog or cat's behaviour as it ages. A very active cat may slow down, and a once independent dog may become more nervous and needy as its senses deteriorate. Animals suffering from joint pain or arthritis may be bad tempered when touched in a sore spot, or when lifted. If your pet is showing significant personality changes though, be sure to consult your vet.

Caring for older pets

As your dog or cat grows older, you may need to make changes to their diet and routine to accommodate extra needs or changes in mobility. For example, if your dog has traditionally loved vigorous exercise, he or she may start to prefer slower, shorter walks. Your cat may not be able to climb as well, or may experience discomfort during grooming due to stiff muscles or arthritis. Look out for changes in your pet, and adjust their routine accordingly. Here are a few things to take into consideration.


Pets may require more frequent grooming as they age and become less flexible – and so less able to clean themselves. For tips on pet grooming, see our articles on looking after cats and looking after dogs. Be mindful of sore spots in older pets, though, due to arthritis.


As your dog or cat ages, you may also need to change its diet to a senior version of its favourite brand. These contain nutrients that are specially formulated for older animals to keep them healthy. If your pet's lifestyle has changed significantly – for example, if it has become more sedentary in its old age, then the amount of food may need adjusting to avoid weight gain. Watch out for a loss of appetite, as this can indicate health problems. If your pet is eating significantly less, then take it to a vet for a check-up.

Specialist toys/products

There are many products made specifically for aging pets that can help with stiff joints, including ramps, orthopaedic beds and other equipment to help keep your pet mobile.

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