Senior Dog Care


Special Considerations for Dogs

Dogs older than seven years of age are considered senior pets. Senior dogs are in the stage of life in which the aging process is beginning to affect every organ system. Some organs “wear out” faster or are more susceptible to cumulative damage than others, so certain observations are especially important to make. The following is a list of key recommendations that we feel are important for older dogs.

  • Keep vaccinations current. Your veterinarian will determine the proper vaccine schedule for your senior pet’s lifestyle. Most senior pets will receive most vaccines every three years. Some vaccines with shorter duration of immunity such as the “kennel cough,” Leptospirosis or Lyme disease vaccines may be given more frequently (every six to twelve months).
  • Have blood and urine tests evaluated at least once a year. Early detection of chronic diseases such as kidney disease, thyroid disease and diabetes is the key to successful treatment and preservation of quality of life.
  • Brush your pet frequently to prevent matts. This can contribute to skin infections and may hide skin tumors.
  • senior_dogs_-_recommendations-1_2009
  • Clip toe nails as needed to prevent overgrowth. Long toe nails may cause the dog to stand and walk abnormally and result in pain or accelerate and exacerbate arthritic changes.
  • Keep plenty of fresh water available and monitor its consumption. Increases in water consumption or urination are often associated with conditions such as diabetes, kidney and liver disease.
  • Keep other pets from preventing your senior pet access to food and water.
  • Keep your senior pet indoors most of the time, especially in inclement weather.
  • Weigh on the same scale and record results at least every two months. Changes in weight can be an early indicator of disease.

How often should I take my senior dog to the veterinarian?

“You should take your senior dog to the veterinarian at least once a year for an annual check-up.”

You should take your senior dog to the veterinarian at least once a year for an annual check-up. It is very important to have your veterinarian examine your dog if you notice for any of the following:

1.  Sustained significant increase in water consumption. (normal water intake should be less  than 100 ml/kg/day or approximately 1 ½ cups (12  ounces)/day for a 10 pound dog)

2.  Sustained significant increase in urination.

3.  Weight loss.

4.  Significant decrease in appetite or failure to eat for more than two consecutive days.

5.  Significant increase in appetite.

6.  Repeated vomiting.

7.  Diarrhea that lasts over three days.

8.  Difficulty in passing stool or urine.

9.  Sudden loss of housetraining.


10.   Lameness that lasts more than three days, or lameness in more than one leg.

11.   Noticeable decrease in vision, especially if sudden in onset or pupils that do not constrict in bright light.

12.   Masses, ulcerations (open sores), or multiple scabs on the skin that persist more than one week.

13.   Foul mouth odor or drooling that lasts over two days.

14.   Increasing size of the abdomen.

15.   Increasing inactivity or amount of time spent sleeping.

16.   Hair loss, especially if accompanied by scratching, or if the loss is in specific areas (as opposed to generalized).

17.   Persistent coughing or gagging.

18.   Excessive panting.

19.   Sudden collapse or bouts of weakness.

20.   Inability to chew dry food.

21.  A seizure (convulsion or “fit”).

Ernest Ward, DVM
© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Senior Cat Care

Special Considerations for Cats

There are now more pet cats than dogs in the North America. group_of_cats

Improved nutrition, prevention of infectious disease and advances in veterinary medical care have resulted in our cats living longer and healthier lives. In the last decade in North America, there has been a 15% increase in the number of cats over ten years of age and the proportion of the feline population aged fifteen years or older has increased from 5% to 14%.

What are some of the changes that occur in aging cats?

“Lack of exercise can result in a fall in energy requirements of up to 40%.”

  • Many aging cats are affected by osteoarthritis, which contributes to a lack of activity. The lack of activity then contributes to stiffening of the joints and worsens the symptoms of arthritis.
  • Reduction in exercise may result in reduced muscle tone, which may further reduce the cat’s ability to jump, climb or exercise.
  • When coupled with reduced activity, common in older individuals, this lack of exercise can result in a fall in energy requirements of up to 40%. If a cat maintains a good appetite, its daily food intake must be reduced to prevent excessive weight gain that can cause obesity-related health issues.
  • Inappetence or lack of desire to eat may develop in some senior cats, since the senses of smell and taste become dull with age.
  • Periodontal (dental) disease is common in senior cats, and may contribute to inappetance.
  • Intestinal function, including the ability of the intestines to absorb nutrients is reduced in many older animals.
  • Geriatric or degenerative changes in the liver, kidneys, and endocrine system will decrease the efficiency of digestive and other metabolic processes.
  • Thirst is often decreased, causing an increased risk of dehydration, especially when combined with concurrent renal insufficiency, a type of kidney disease common in older cats.

How might these aging changes affect my cat’s response to medication?

“Changes in physiology also affect the way many drugs are metabolized.”

Changes in physiology not only affect food and nutrient absorption, they also affect the way many drugs are metabolized. Liver and kidney disease occur commonly in older cats. When coupled with mild dehydration, these can result in reduced drug clearance rates and marked elevations in drug concentrations circulating within the blood. When treating geriatric patients, the dose and dosing intervals of some drugs may need to be altered.

Does my senior cat still need to have regular booster vaccinations?

Although little is known about the feline immune system, it is generally assumed that immune function deteriorates with age. This may in turn result in a reduced ability to fight infection or destroy neoplastic (cancer) cells. However, if your cat’s lifestyle means that it has a low risk of contracting certain of the common preventable diseases, your veterinarian will advise you on the most appropriate vaccination program for your cat based on its physical condition and lifestyle.


My senior cat becomes very distressed when we try to medicate her. Should we keep trying when it upsets her so much?

There is no simple answer to this question, and it should be discussed with your veterinarian. The proper advice for your cat depends on the specific disease being treated, and whether the treatment may lead to a cure or is aimed at controlling clinical signs. It also depends on how ill the cat is. Often, older cats do not tolerate excessive physical handling or environmental change, so while veterinary medicine may be able to offer complex therapeutic options, these may not be an option for your cat. It is important that each case be assessed individually. Treatment should not be attempted where it will be poorly tolerated for medical or temperamental reasons.

What diseases do senior cats commonly get?

“In older patients diagnosis and treatment may be complicated by several concurrent disease processes.”

The major health problems seen in older cats are:

  • Obesity
  • Periodontal disease
  • Hormonal disorders such as hyperthyroidism and diabetes mellitus
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease
  • Neoplasia or cancer
  • Infections such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)
  • Osteoarthritis

You should remember that, while young cats usually have only one disorder at a time, this is often not the case in older patients, where diagnosis and treatment may be complicated by several concurrent disease processes.

What can I do to make my senior cat as happy as possible?

Most cats age gracefully and require very little. Since older cats do not generally respond well to change, it is important that any changes be introduced slowly.

Elderly cats should have easy access to a warm and comfortable bed, situated where the cat can sleep safely without fear of disturbance.

You should feed your older cat a high quality, easily digestible food such as a premium brand senior diet. Although specific nutrient requirements are not yet determined for senior cats, it should be assumed that any older cat has some degree of subclinical or underlying disease, particularly of the kidneys and liver. Hence, a diet with moderate protein restriction is usually recommended.

Geriatric cats should always have easy access to fresh drinking water.

As cats age, some will experience a reduced ability to control urination and defecation. To reduce the risk of “accidents”, it may be necessary to provide multiple litter boxes located on each floor of the house that your cat may use, and near favorite sleeping and eating areas.

My veterinarian mentioned a Senior Care Program. What does this involve?

“The earlier we can diagnose a disease, the more the likelihood that we can slow or reverse it.”

The aim of any senior care program is to maintain the quality of the patient’s life and to slow the progression of age-related disease. Because most of the chronic diseases we see in senior cats are slow to progress, early recognition is usually only possible through diagnostic tests. The earlier we can diagnose a disease, the more the likelihood that we can slow or reverse its progression and maintain a longer period of high quality of life for your senior cat. Senior cats should have regular health checks (every six months).

Senior care programs usually include a thorough physical examination, blood and urine screening and chest or abdominal radiographs. Body weight should be recorded regularly and booster vaccinations should be given as determined by your cat’s lifestyle.

While it is true that “old age is not a disease”, older patients do merit special attention. This is important so that if your cat develops disease, we can recognize and treat it as early as possible, thereby maintaining its quality of life for as long as possible.

Ernest Ward, DVM
© Copyright 2009 Lifelearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.

Crumps 1987-2005



Crumps was a great cat. Personality to the max!! Hidden meaning; not always nice. LOL.

I got Crumps from the Etobicoke Animal Shelter in 1987. He was as cute as a brown tabby kitten could be. Crumps was minimal work throughout most of his years. He came in to the vet yearly for his annual examination and vaccines and never had any other problems until he turned 13 years old. This was about the time when I started to notice that he always seemed to be drinking water. Which, I don’t know about you, but most cats don’t drink nearly enough so it was surprising to see him at the water dish. That being said, of course with the increase in water intake came the increase in urine production and not always in the proper areas.

This was my signal to bring him in to the vet and have them look into it.

My vet did a thorough physical examination, checked his blood pressure and ran some blood tests. To my chagrin, Crumps had decreased kidney function. Crumps was started on a low protein food, to ease the work on the kidneys, a potassium supplement,  and a medication to aid in blood flow to the kidneys. We also rehydrated him as necessary and re-checked his kidney values persistently. Within a few weeks his drinking was back to normal as was his peeing. We continued to monitor his progression as the years went by. Crumps had his up and down points, mostly up, but as the years went by his kidney function did continue to decrease. Crumps managed quiet well for almost 5 years until he could no longer pull himself out of these downs.

Kidney disease is not curable but it is very manageable and early treatment and maintenance programs can extend your pet’s life for years. The key to this though, is the sooner we can diagnose decreased kidney function the faster we can slow down the progression.

Watch for subtle signs such as an increase in drinking, peeing, lethargy, decrease in appetite and general sluggishness. Food is definitely a major factor in treating kidney dysfunctions. High protein foods are very hard for the kidneys to filter, so to balance out the decrease in protein these foods have increased fat content which is necessary for caloric intake, the brain, coat and skin care and muscle health. Never change to a low protein diet without discussing it with your veterinarian first and be sure to bring your cat in if your vet if notice any changes no matter how subtle.


Dental Health and your Senior Pet.

Did you know that the mouth is the gateway to you and your pets entire body??

Did you know that your pet shouldn’t have bad breath?

Bad breath is a sure sign that your pet has some level of periodontal disease happening in their mouth.

Bacteria is a common occurrence in the mouth. We all have it, but with regular brushing, flossing and rinsing, we control it quite well in our mouths. But what about your dog or cat?? Most of us never brush our pet’s teeth, or at least not twice a day and we absolutely never floss our pet’s teeth. We may give a dental treat once in a while or even periodically get our pet’s teeth cleaned by our veterinarian, but that’s not enough. Good oral health requires a daily commitment. The problem with bacteria in the mouth though is that it gets into our bloodstream and starts affecting other organs! So, not only does it cause bad breath, infected teeth, gum disease, tartar, loose and diseased teeth, it also can aid in causing heart disease, liver disease, kidney dysfunction and a slew of other problems. And diabetics are next to impossible to get their glucose levels under control with a bad mouth!!!

So, why is this even more important in your senior pet?


Senior pets are already prone to starting to have compromised organs and we definitely don’t want to cause any more damage to these organs.

So, what do we do?

Well, we monitor their breath.

As I said before, bad breath is a sure sign of periodontal disease, and the worse the mouth smells, typically the worse the teeth are. At your pets annual examination, your veterinarian will examine their mouth and make recommendations as to what the best course of action is. Generally we like to start with a clean fresh mouth, which may mean your pet requires a dentistry, performed under a general anesthetic. This is typically no less risky than having a young dog have a general anesthetic. The teeth would then be cleaned, polished and examined on all surfaces for signs of decay and/or infection. After this is done we would recommend an after-care regimen to prevent further dental disease.

If we decide that your pet has minimal dental disease, we may just recommend starting with a product, such as, Healthy Mouth to prevent the bacteria from staying in the mouth any longer than necessary.

So, what was the point of this blog?

The point is, go home and smell your pets mouth!!!! And then talk to us about how to make their breath not something that makes you walk out of the room or kick your dog off the bed at night! LOL

In Memory of 2 Sweet Sisters – Maggie and Mugsy

It was the spring of 1997, when my parents stated we were getting a puppy. We were all so excited, but who knew that they’d in fact come home with not one, but two, Jack Russell Terriers. Now for anyone who knows the breed, one is a lot of work, and two is just crazy!! LOL. One was short-haired and smooth while the other one had a longer wiry coat and at just 8 weeks old, Maggie and Mugsy were the cutest little things I had ever seen.

As young sisters, they were inseparable, but as with human sisters, eventually sibling rivalry set in. We tried numerous different avenues to try to curb this behaviour but unfortunately it was too much for my parents to handle. They were always concerned that one might actually hurt the other. By this point, I was already living elsewhere, so I took Mugsy home to live with me.

Mugsy was a great companion for me. She did not seem bothered at all by the move and she didn’t seem to miss her sister at all!

Maggie adjusted as well to living without her sister and my parents spoiled her rotten.

As Mugsy aged, I started noticing slight changes in her behaviour. My perfectly house-trained dog was starting to have accidents, her sleeping habits changed and she seemed to always be panting. I brought her in to see her veterinarian, where they proceeded to do a physical exam and run bloodwork. Nothing obvious was found and she was diagnosed with cognitive dysfunction.By 2011, at the age of 14, Mugsy’s bad days outweighed her good. I didn’t feel that it was fair to her anymore and on May 5th I was with her as she took her last breath. I miss her horrendously.

Maggie recently passed away at the age of 17.

Hopefully they are getting along in heaven as they did when they were young pups.


My Senior is Full of Surprises!!

My fiance, Andrew, and I recently bought our first home together and moved at the end of the summer. Initially I was concerned about my 9-year-old cat, Adelaide, and how she would handle the move. But, as she continues to do, she proved to me how resilient she really is. In fact, she has even adopted some new habits since the move, despite her senior status.

For the first few weeks we were in our new home, she would jump up on our laps for her nightly loving and she’d be all wet! I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was going on. There was no odour associated with the wetness, and I even checked the basement looking for leaks or puddles, but to no avail. It wasn’t until weeks later that I figured out what was going on…

It happened one evening when I heard a strange thunk from upstairs. I went to investigate, only to discover Addie hanging out in an unusual place – the bathtub! Andrew had just gotten out of the shower, and it seemed that the second he left the washroom, she went right in and jumped into the bathtub. I watched her and laughed as she pawed the last droplets of water falling from the faucet, licked her paw, licked the tub, licked the faucet. She was too funny! Eventually she was satisfied that she had licked all of the errant drops, jumped out of the tub and went on her merry way. And so we solved the mystery of my wet cat.

My girl Adelaide is the love of my life and I can’t believe we have already had 9 wonderful years together. Sometimes I forget that she is a senior because she is so full of life and always keeps me laughing. She still has quite a bit of spunk left in her and she certainly keeps me on my toes.



There’s something about Dallas.

dallas (2)

I could never understand when I would see people with senior pets that looked so decrepit and ill-looking, until I experienced it with my own love, Dallas.

I took Dallas home at 8 weeks of age in January of 2003. From the moment I laid eyes on her, I knew she was mine. I got Dallas from a classmate when I attended the Animal Care program at Sheridan College. She would run away from me and hide her little 8lb body into a little cat house. I was finally able to get her out after a few minutes and she came home with me which was supposed to have been one night (that’s what I told my parents), and it ended up being a whole dogs life.

Dallas was a great dog, she would let our cat attack her and wouldn’t lay a tooth on her. She loved to play with other dogs. Although she was unsure of some people, it didn’t take her long to become your best friend. Dallas and my dad enjoyed their car rides together. Dallas and I loved her off leash walks at High Park and through Claireville Ranch.

A few years later I got married and left her at my parents house, because my dad told me once I got engaged, “whatever you bring in this house stays in this house.” Being in a new house without having a pet just felt like something was missing, so my husband and I got a puppy. When visiting at my parents with my new puppy, I found that Dallas was starting to settle down. She was over the playing stage and wanted to be left alone, I guess a golden retriever puppy would do that. She was tired of the “in her face” play and the “young dog” lifestyle.

While on maternity leave, after the birth of my daughter, I was taking Dallas to the vet a lot more often. My parents were complaining about the constant urination in the house, her purulent runny nose and decreasing appetite. She stopped greeting us at the door. She stopped howling when the doorbell would ring, but somehow, she continued to love her walks. From numerous urine, blood tests and ultrasounds unfortunately we had no definitive answers. I noticed Dallas starting to age a lot quicker than seemed normal. Her coat was dull, she started to lose weight and was urinating all over herself. At the age of 10, Dallas was now that decrepit and ill-looking senior dog. Dallas collapsed down the stairs just before this past Christmas and deteriorated quickly within the next week. It was a Sunday evening when my parents called, they said she didn’t seem right. Panting, not standing and her head tilting to one side, as well as, absolutely no interest in her food. I headed straight over. Dallas was in such rough shape. I spent some time with her thinking what else I could have done? I headed home later that evening with the hope that she makes it through the night. Unfortunately that was not the case. I miss her dearly.

Driving back to my parents house the next morning I blamed myself for her no longer being with me. I left her behind. Did I neglect her? NO, she was well taken care of. They loved her as much as I did. Did I do what I could have? My answer was YES, I gave her the best life I could and kept her as comfortable as possible until she decided to leave.

As a family we decided that we wanted to know what had happened to our poor girl and requested a postmortem. Waiting a few days for results we were informed that she was battling cancer.

She was a great companion and the loss of her was incredibly heart breaking for my family.

Although I love my young golden retriever, there was something about Dallas that can’t be matched.

I miss her,