This information is provide compliments of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Thanks to better care, pets are living longer now than they ever have
before – but as pets get older, they need extra care and attention.
Regular veterinary examinations can detect problems in older pets
before they become advanced or life-threatening, and improve the
chances of a longer and healthier life for your pet.
When does a pet become “old?”
It varies, but cats and small dogs are generally considered “senior” at seven
years of age. Larger breed dogs tend to have shorter life spans compared to
smaller breeds and are often considered senior when they are 5 to 6 years of
age. Contrary to popular belief, dogs do not age at a rate of 7 human years for
each year in dog years.
Age: Human Equivalents for Older Pets
Cat Years Human Years Dog Years Human Years (small to very large dogs)
7 54 7 44 to 56
10 63 10 56 to 78
15 78 15 76 to115
20 97 20 96 to 120
*Small: 0-20 lbs; Medium: 21-50 lbs; Large: 51-90 lbs; Very large: >90 lbs
What problems are more common in senior pets?
While it’s easy to spot the outward signs of aging such as graying haircoat and
slower pace, it’s important to remember a pet’s organ systems are also
changing. An older pet is more likely to develop diseases such as heart, kidney
and liver disease, cancer or arthritis. Cancer accounts for almost half of the
deaths of pets over 10 years of age. Dogs get cancer at roughly the same rate as
humans, while cats have a somewhat lower rate.
It is normal for pets to lose some of their sight and hearing as they age, similar
to humans. Older pets may develop cataracts and they may not respond as well
to voice commands. If you teach your pet hand signals at a younger age, it can
make it easier for you to communicate with your pet as its hearing worsens
with age. Simple gestures such as “come” or “stop” can allow you to safely
retain control of your pet without the use of words. Pets with poor sight or even
blindness can get around well in familiar environments. If your pet’s eyesight
is failing, avoid rearranging or adding furniture or other items that could
Changes in activity
If your pet is starting to avoid active playing or running or if it has trouble with
daily activities such as jumping up on its favorite chair or into the family car, it
may have arthritis. A pet with arthritis may also show irritation when you touch or pet it (especially over the arthritic areas), and may seem more
depressed or grouchy. There may be other reasons for these changes; you
should have your pet examined by your veterinarian to determine the cause of
the problems. Veterinarians have access to many therapies to help manage
your pet’s arthritis, and simple changes in your home such as orthopedic pet
beds, raised feeding platforms, stairs and ramps may also help your older pet
deal with arthritis.
Changes in behavior
Behavior changes in your pet can serve as the first indicators of aging. These
changes might be due to discomfort or pain (arthritis, etc) or worsening sight
or hearing, but they may also be due to the normal aging process. Some
behavior changes in older pets may be due to cognitive dysfunction, which is
similar to senility in people.
Common behavior changes in older pets that may be signs of cognitive
• easily disturbed by loud sounds
• increased barking/meowing
• confused or disoriented behavior
• house soiling (“accidents”)
• less interest in playing
• not responding to voice
• unusually aggressive behavior
• anxiety or nervousness
• increased wandering
• changes in sleep patterns
• repeating the same actions
• more grouchy or irritable than usual
How does weight affect senior pets?
Weight can have a tremendous effect on an older pet’s health. Obesity in older
pets increases the risk of arthritis, difficulty breathing, insulin resistance or
diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, skin problems, cancer and other
conditions. An overweight pet may not show any early warning signs of health
problems, so regular visits to your veterinarian are recommended. Once your
veterinarian evaluates your pet’s condition, he or she can recommend a proper
diet and suggest other steps to help your pet maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Sudden weight loss in an older pet is also a source for concern, especially in
cats. Hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland), diabetes and kidney
disease are common causes of weight loss in senior cats. If you notice any
sudden changes in your older pet’s weight, contact your veterinarian.
Should new pets be introduced into the home as older
It may be tempting to introduce a new pet into the home as your pet gets older,
but you should consult with your veterinarian before adding a puppy or kitten.
Ideally, a new pet should be introduced when your older pet is still active and
can move away from the younger animal if it needs a “time-out.” Senior pets
need to know they have a quiet, secure place where they can walk away and
rest in comfort.