Diet - There are several reasons why a special diet may be needed for an elderly pet. He or she may be less active than a younger animal, and therefore may require fewer calories. The digestive organs may become less efficient in digestion and absorption, and a highly digestible diet may be more appropriate. Phosphorus and protein content may need to be decreased if your pet has kidney problems.
Under certain circumstances the vitamin and mineral needs of elderly pets may be different from those of younger animals. Some of the special senior diets have mineral and vitamin content carefully adjusted to help provide the appropriate balance for elderly pets that have failing kidney or heart function.
Joints - As your pet gets older, joint pain and stiffness may develop. This may mean that your pet becomes less active and his energy level may decrease. He may become tired more easily and want to nap more often. Dogs with arthritis should still be exercised; however, they may need a diet containing fewer calories to prevent them from putting on weight.
Hearing, sight and smell can all become less acute with age and you may need to make allowances for these changes. Watch for signs of impaired sight such as bumping into furniture or loss of hearing if your pet stops reacting to its name or command. Eye infections, cataracts, decreased night vision, or even blindness is common, however, these can also be symptoms of a larger problem. Your veterinarian can help you distinguish between the normal aging process and an acute problem.
Dental - Older pets are more likely to develop tooth and gum conditions. If your pet has sore gums or loose teeth, he or she may be reluctant to eat. Gum disease not only leads to loss of teeth, but can also cause heart and kidney infections if bacteria enter the bloodstream through the inflamed gums. Examine your pet's mouth regularly and ask your veterinarian for advice if the teeth or gums do not look healthy.
Urinary - Often associated with hormonal imbalance in spayed females or a disorder of the nervous system that controls bladder function, urinary incontinence or inappropriate urination is common in an aging pet. Inappropriate urination may also be the result of a urinary tract disorder, prostate problem or symptomatic of a larger problem. Consult your veterinarian if your pet suddenly becomes incontinent or begins to urinate more frequently.
Behavior - As your pet ages, his behavior may change significantly. You might interpret this as simple aging, but it actually might be due to a treatable geriatric disease, such as cognitive dysfunction. Some typical signs include confusion, disorientation, decreased activity, changes in the sleep / wake cycle, loss of housetraining, or signs which suggest a decrease in your dog's interest in, or ability to interact with his environment or with you.
Kidneys - Excessive thirst and frequent or uncontrolled urination are often signs of kidney problems or diabetes. Since the kidneys process and eliminate body waste products into the urine, it is important that these organs remain healthy. If your pet's kidneys are not functioning properly, your veterinarian may recommend a diet specially designed for kidney problems.
Even if your pet seems perfectly healthy, regular geriatric check-ups are important to manage many of the changes associated with aging. Dogs and cats over seven years of age should be examined by a veterinarian twice a year. Pets can be the most rewarding when they reach middle or old age; they know you, have a special routine, and have spent years as your companion. Maintaining the health of your aging pet is a part of your mutually beneficial relationship and can provide both of you with many more years of love and companionship.