All Pets Veterinary Clinic
As pets age they can often have serious health problems that can be overlooked or
dismissed as normal for an older pet. Due to an increase in awareness in the area
of senior pet medicine, veterinarians are increasingly able to offer new diagnostics
and treatment options for a variety of problems that are common in older animals.
This often means that senior pets can live a longer, better quality life. The key
to providing this life to your senior pet begins with early recognition of changes
in your pet's health. Early recognition of problems can result in early diagnosis
and prompt treatment and prevention of more serious conditions. The rest of this
article will explore some of the more common signs that can be associated with
diseases common in older animals.
1. Stiffness, difficulty rising, reluctance to climb stairs, and limping are
some of the most common signs of arthritis in older pets. Many arthritic pets are
worse in cold and damp weather. In addition, arthritic pets are often more
uncomfortable when they first wake up and appear to "work out" of their discomfort
as the day goes on. Arthritis can be a painful and dehabilitating condition.
Fortunately, there are a wide variety of treatment options. However, it is important
to consider that the same signs can be an indication of other diseases such as bone
cancer and neurologic illness. Thus, proper diagnosis is necessary to provide the
2. Excessive thirst, excessive urination, and wetting accidents can signal a
wide variety of serious conditions in older pets. In dogs and cats both, excessive
thirst and urination should not be ignored. Diabetes, kidney failure, and Cushings
disease are three of the most common causes of increased thirst and urination in pets.
Urinary tract infections, incontinence, and behavioral problems are other conditions
that can be associated with wetting accidents. Regardless of the cause, any change in
thirst and urination patterns should be carefully investigated so that the best possible
treatment can be provided.
3. Coughing, gagging, excessive panting, and shallow or labored breathing can
be an indication of cardiac or respiratory disease. Many animals will develop heart
murmurs as they age. A heart murmur can be one of the earliest signs of cardiac disease.
In most cases, over time, animals with heart murmurs will develop congestive heart
failure, which can result in a variety of respiratory signs. Early diagnosis and
treatment of cardiac problems can extend the life of your pet. Similar signs can be
the result of other conditions as well. These can include advanced cancers, inflammatory
and allergic conditions, and parasitic (heartworm) disease. Again, proper diagnosis is
necessary to determine the cause of these respiratory signs so that appropriate treatment
can be instituted.
4. Bad breath, rubbing or pawing at the face, excessive salivation, dropping food,
and difficulty eating can be an indication of dental disease, infection, and oral
cancer. Without appropriate oral care virtually all animals will have significant
dental disease as they age. In addition to tooth loss, untreated dental infections can
result in infection of the liver, kidneys, heart, and lungs. Thus, oral care is vital
for all pets. Oral tumors can often mimic the signs of advanced dental disease. Thus,
animals with signs of dental problems should be evaluated carefully for other oral
5. Lumps and bumps on the skin are very common in older animals. Fortunately,
the majority of skin lesions are benign. However, the types of skin tumors that are
malignant are typically very aggressive and should be taken care of promptly. Special
attention should be given to masses on the eyelid margins, anus, and mammary glands, as
masses in these areas tend to be more problematic. All new lumps and bumps in older
pets should be examined by a veterinarian.
6. Disorientation, change in sleeping patterns, loss of house training, lack of
interest in family members, and change in normal routine can be the result of several
different disorders and diseases, some of which have been discussed previously. If
these other illnesses are ruled out, one possible explanation is cognitive dysfunction
syndrome or CDS. CDS can be compared to Alzheimer's in people. Changes in the physical
and chemical make up of the brain result in altered behaviors. New medical treatments
are available for CDS.
7. Blindness, bluish colored or hazy eyes, and bulging eyes can be an indication
of a wide variety of diseases. Cataracts and nuclear sclerosis can mimic each other.
Nuclear sclerosis is a normal aging process that occurs on most pets over 7 or 8 years
old. Cataracts can occur independently or secondary to diabetes. Glaucoma results when
the pressure in the eye becomes too high. Untreated glaucoma results in permanent
blindness. Disease such as kidney failure and hyperthyroidism can result in high blood
pressure and sudden blindness. Any sudden change in vision or appearance to the eyes
should be investigated immediately.
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not
intended to take the place of your regular veterinarian. Please do not hesitate
to contact your regular veterinarian if you have questions regarding your pet.
Karen Blakeley, DVM, MPH
13 December 2002