Looking after your senior pet

When is a pet classified as being senior or mature?

Dogs and cats are considered to be mature adults once they turn 7 years old. Large breed dogs age more quickly and are considered mature at 5-6 years of age.

What are some of the signs of ageing that a pet owner should look out for?

A pet owner may notice changes to the pet’s appearance such as some grey hairs appearing. Pets may also develop hearing loss and reduced vision. This could present as a pet no longer waking upon your arrival home or not responding or being able to find you when called at the park.

Even if a mature pet does not outwardly appear old, certain changes are progressively taking place. These include changes in their organ systems such their immune system, digestive system and certain behaviours. And with advancing age there is also an increased risk of many age-related complications and disorders.

Are there any signs a pet owner should be concerned about?

It is important to note that the following are not normal signs of ageing and are often an indication of a more serious underlying health concern.

These include:
  • Drinking and/or urinating more
  • Loss of house training
  • Persistent cough
  • Lumps or Bumps
  • Bad breath
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Finding moving/getting up difficult
  • Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
  • Change in appetite
  • Appearing disorientated

What are some of the common diseases of older pets?

Whilst ageing itself is not a disease, certain diseases become more prevalent with age including kidney disease, dementia, diabetes, arthritis and dental disease. Fortunately if diagnosed early many of these diseases can be managed.

What care should I be providing to my ageing pet?

All pets should be kept up to date with all preventative health care, regardless of age. This includes vaccinations, worming and flea control (amongst other things like ticks and heartworm depending on location). Having a daily dental care routine is vital to protect against dental disease. All pets should receive regular veterinary health checks and should be fed high quality age appropriate nutrition. Hill’s has a complete line of wellness foods for older dogs and cats of every size and need including Adult 7+ and 11+ (Cat only).

Older pets should be groomed regularly to keep their coat healthy. This is particularly relevant to older cats with mobility issues who may struggle to groom. Regular grooming can help to stop painful and unattractive matts from forming.

Why should I feed a senior/mature adult food to my pet?

Older animals often have decreased nutrient digestion and assimilation so it is important to feed a diet with easy to digest ingredients for a healthy digestive system. All Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ and 11+ (Cat only) foods are made with high quality ingredients that are easy to digest. Older pets can be prone to weight gain as they are not burning as many calories exercising. Hill’s Science Diet Adult 7+ and 11+ (Cat only) foods contain high quality protein to support lean muscles and a helps mature pets maintain a healthy body condition. Senior diets contain with balanced minerals to support kidney and heart health, because excess minerals can lead to worsening of underlying disease.
Hill's Science Diet Youthful Vitality range provides precisely balanced nutrition to fight effects of ageing in your Adult 7+ dog or cat. A proprietary blend of ingredients supports brain function, interaction, energy & vitality.

When should I switch to a senior food?

Even if your pet is not showing any outward signs of ageing, they should still be transitioned to a senior food at 7 years for cats & small/medium dog breeds and 6 years for dogs > 25kg.
It is important to realize that the benefits of feeding good nutrition accrue over a long period of time before becoming clinically evident.

How frequently should we be taking our senior pets for a check over at the vet?

The general consensus from veterinarians is that senior pets should be checked by the vet every 6 months (or more frequently if there are health concerns). Whilst it might seem frequent, it is actually only every 2 dog or cat years.

Checkups are an opportunity to raise any concerns you might have, as well as have the vet perform a thorough physical examination of your pet. The vet may also recommend blood and urine tests to screen for diseases. This gives you the best chance of detecting something early so that it can be treated or managed successfully.

What about exercising an older pet?

Keeping pets in top shape requires that we are careful not to over feed them and keep to an exercise routine. Though an older dog may not be as keen to join you on your 5km run or as boisterous at the park it is still important to provide dogs with daily gentle exercise. Exercise is wonderful for mental wellbeing and helps to maintain muscle tone and a healthy bodyweight. Instead of cutting out exercise altogether, modify the type and duration of activity eg. 30 minute walk over a vigorous run around at the park. We shouldn’t forget about cats either! Mature cats still enjoy playing with toys and it can be great exercise as well as mental stimulation.