Caring For a Senior Dog

In a previous post I discussed how to care for your senior cat. Now let’s look at ways to care for a senior dog.

At approximately six years of age, large breed dogs are considered geriatric and tend to have shorter life spans.

A 7 year old small dog is equivalent to a human aged 44-47, and for a large breed dog that age is 50-56.

At 20 years those numbers are 96-105 and 120 years, respectively, for small and medium breed dogs.

Senior dogs can become afflicted with many of the same problems as you and I in our older years. Some of which are:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney and/or urinary tract diseases
  • Liver disease
  • Diabetes
  • Joint or bone disease
  • Senility

Here are some things to consider when caring for an older pet:

To detect and treat signs of illness or other problems, geriatric pets should have semi-annual visits. They are more in depth than the annual visits for younger pets.

Geriatric pets should have foods that are more easily digested. The diet should also consist of different calorie levels, ingredients, and anti-aging nutrients more than is necessary for a non-senior pet.

The health risks increase when geriatric dogs gain weight. However with cats, the bigger concern is weight loss.

Because older pets may show signs of senility, stimulating them through interactions can help keep them mentally active.

Senior pets may need adjustments to their daily lifestyle. Changing sleeping areas to avoid stairs is one thing to keep in mind.

In the local area where I live, if you adopt a pet from a local shelter they must be spayed/neutered before you are allowed to take them home. If you rescue a pet that has not been altered please have the procedure done immediately. There are many low cost local clinics that provide the service and non-spayed/neutered dogs and cats are at a higher risk for several types of cancers. Breast and testicular cancers are largely preventable by spaying and neutering. Approximately half the deaths of pets over 10 years of age are caused by cancer.

Common Signs of Cancer in Pets are:

  • Persistent, abnormal swellings that continue to grow
  • Sores that are not healing
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Any body opening that has discharge or is bleeding
  • Offensive mouth odor
  • Difficulty with eating or swallowing
  • Difficulty with breathing, urinating or defecating

Behavior changes can serve as an important indicator that something is changing in an older pet, sometimes before any medical signs are apparent.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the following are possible behavior changes in older pets:

  • Increased vocalization
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Decreased interaction with humans
  • Increased irritability
  • Increased anxiety
  • House soiling
  • Decrease in self-hygiene/grooming
  • Increased wandering
  • Change in sleep cycles

In the early 1990s studies conducted were the first to identify brain changes in older dogs that were similar to brain changes seen in humans with Alzheimer’s. There is a chance your pet may be experiencing cognitive dysfunction so it is important to have your veterinarian rule out any underlying diseases or causes.

If your pet seems to be in pain and isn’t as active as you think they should be have your veterinarian examine him for the possibility of arthritis. You may see one or more of the following signs if your pet has arthritis:

  • Favoring a limb
  • Difficulty sitting or standing
  • Sleeping more often than usual
  • Joints that appear to be stiff or sore
  • Not as eager to jump, run or climb stairs
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of interest in playing or general decreased activity
  • Increased irritability or other behavior changes
  • Being less alert

If your pet seems to have any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, it is best to have your veterinarian examine them, because signs of arthritis are often similar to signs of normal aging. Arthritis treatments for pets is similar to those for humans.

Some over-the-counter medications can be fatal for pets, so please do not give human medications to your pet without first consulting your veterinarian.

Peace and Love are present in my world now,

Lovin Pet Care
Melanie Lovett

Caring for A Senior Cat

There are three groups that classify older cats:

  • 7-10 years (44-56 human years): Mature or middle-aged
  • 11-14 years (60-72 human years): Senior
  • 15+ years (76+ years for humans): Geriatric

With proper home and veterinarian care, many cats live into their late teens and early twenties.

It is important to understand aging changes, as well as what constitutes “normal” developments in additional to what signal signs of treatable conditions. This can be challenging because some owners might think that unlike dogs, cats do not need to visit the veterinarian on an ongoing basis. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Cats are masters at hiding disease. Despite underlying problems, they may appear well. The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends a veterinarian check-up every six months for a healthy, older cat.

What to Check for During a Routine Visit With Your Veterinarian:

  • Overall body and weight condition
  • Quality of the skin and coat
  • Teeth, mouth and gums
  • Ears and eyes
  • Lungs and heart
  • Abdomen
  • Muscles and joints

Please make your veterinarian aware of any changes in condition from your previous exam.

Obesity is about more than just being “fat.” It is considered by veterinarians to be a disease that alters metabolism and makes a pet more likely to develop certain conditions, including but not limited to: diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, breathing problems and lower urinary tract disease.

At the opposite end of the spectrum in the senior and geriatric age group is a cat becoming underweight. Some older cats have a decreased ability to digest protein and fat, or it may be caused by a disease. Also keep in mind the fact that cats lose their sense of taste or smell as they age and this can cause loss of interest in eating. A broken tooth, chronic kidney disease or memory problems can also impact the ability to eat.

One of the key elements to your cat’s continued good health is a proper diet. Older cats are prone to dehydration and constipation, so increased water intake is important for older cats. Also offering three or four small meals per day makes food easier to digest for older cats.

Dental care is important to maintain your cat’s oral hygiene to help ensure continued health. Neglected teeth and gums can result in severe mouth pain and even lead to infection in other organs. Untreated oral disease and dental pain in your cat can cause her to experience emotional and physical decline.

A range of illnesses can occur as your cat ages. The most common are mentioned below:

Chronic Kidney Disease

Kidney disease often begins in middle age but is most common in older cats. Some signs may include:

  • Mild behavior changes
  • Changes in drinking frequency or location
  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased volumes of urine
  • Constipation
  • Appetite decrease
  • Muscle decrease and weight loss


Diabetes is most common in obese male cats. It is a significant disease in older cats. Nearly half of all diabetic cats range in age from 10 to 15 years.
Signs include:

  • Excessive hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive thirst and urination

Other diseases that affect older cats are listed below but not limited to:

Thyroid disease

  • Hypertension
  • Gastrointestinal Conditions
  • Cancer (About half of all deaths in cats aged 10 and older are caused by cancer)
  • Arthritis

Even with appropriate treatment and regular veterinary care, many senior cats eventually reach a point where illness significantly affects their quality of life. If and when that time comes, it is important to include your trusted veterinarian in decided the best course of action for your pet.

Peace and Love are present in my world now,

Lovin Pet Care
Melanie Lovett

Dealing with the Loss Of A Pet

Any animal lover will tell you that losing your pet is one of the hardest things to experience. Whether through illness, age, or accident it can be very difficult to fill the void left in your heart and in your life by the loss of your furry companion.

griefI’ve often wondered which is worse: Losing your pet suddenly and never getting to say goodbye, or being with your animal as they take their last breath.

For me the decision to have my beloved cat put to sleep was gut wrenching. Even though I knew she was suffering, and had been since basically the day I rescued her. We had 9 wonderful years together and during that time she was on several meds daily. In fact, during the last 9 months of her life I was giving her IV injections daily. That in of itself was a huge challenge for me. I definitely have a needle phobia. I had to take her in every week to have blood levels checked and as soon as it was time, I bolted out of the exam room. To this day I still can’t be in the room when my pets need shots of any kind.

But when it became obvious that the end was approaching and Savannah needed me to step up I did. It wasn’t the cost aspect of bringing her in to the vet every day for the fluids; It was her comfort level. If you had to have chemo every day, would you prefer to do it in a loud, disruptive clinic with people yelling, or would you prefer the peaceful environment of your own home?

It was definitely a challenge for me. My vet told me he was more worried about how I was going to handle the whole thing and NOT my cat. It took a lot of practice with the Dr. and indeed the first time I did it at home I nearly passed out afterwards. As the vet knew she would, Savannah handled it like a trouper and it was relatively easy until we got months into it and she began to develop scar tissue and it became increasingly difficult to find an injection site. If you aren’t familiar with sub-Q fluids injections with an animal there is only a small area between the shoulder blades where the needle can go in. You have to pinch the skin and pull it up like a tent. And on a 6 pound cat there isn’t much room to work with.

Even though I knew it was coming, had known for months in fact, the day I had to say goodbye was more difficult than I ever imagined. If you’ve been through the loss of the pet you know that it’s like hitting a brick wall at 100 miles per hour without a helmet. I had spent weeks preparing myself and thought I was ready… but are you really ever ready to say goodbye to someone you love? Someone you’ve cared for for several years? Someone who was always there for you through laughter and tears?

Although death wasn’t imminent and she may have lasted through the night and even for another 24 hours, she would only continue to get sicker and her suffering would increase. Then my vet said something to me that I will never forget. “You have to listen with your head because your heart will never let you let go.”

While it was one the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, my vet gently reminded me that what I was allowing was a final, loving, humane act for Savannah by ending her suffering. He also shared my grief with me, having cared for her since day one. He told me I could take her home and if I needed him, even at two am, I could call his cell phone and he would meet me at the clinic. I didn’t want to have to take her for her final moments to some unfamiliar 24 hour animal hospital. I wanted her to be with people who loved her, and Dr. Johnson was just as emotional about the situation as I was. He told me that he didn’t want to be the one to have to put her to sleep, but that he would do it for her and me. Having a Vet you trust and rely on during a crisis like that can mean the world. Your head and heart and emotions are in a tail spin and I will be forever grateful to him for his support and guidance during that time.

Because Savannah was ill for so long I had a lengthy period of time to decide whether or not I wanted to be with her when she took her final breath. It is a deeply personal decision that you have to live with for the rest of your life and I can’t image having to make it in a moment’s notice. There is so much going on in your beloved companion’s final moments that while you think you had everything planned out, it’s such an emotional time that you question every decision afterwards. I, however, stuck with my choice and I absolutely do not regret it to this day.

Even though this all happened 5 years ago I still remember it as if it were yesterday. If you or someone you know has recently or will soon be going through a situation like this and I can help in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact me. Having someone who has been through the experience can be a tremendous comfort, as my vet was to me.

Peace and Love are present in my world now,

Lovin Pet Care
Melanie Lovett