As we age, our body systems become less efficient, often leading to disease onset. The same goes for our pets, who suffer from many of the same conditions. While many age-related diseases have no cure, medical advancements have led to better treatments and longer lifespans for pets. In no particular order, here are five common diseases of senior pets, typical treatments, and how owners can help their furry friends cope. 

#1: Osteoarthritis

This painful joint disease affects dogs and cats of all sizes. As the cartilage in the joint spaces deteriorates, inflammation occurs, causing pain, stiffness, and general mobility issues. Owners may notice their pets less eager to play, go for long walks, or jump on the furniture. The elbows, wrists, and hip areas are commonly affected, causing many pets difficulty in rising from lying or sitting. Cats may hiss or bite when you touch a particularly painful area, which is often the lower back or lumbosacral area. 

What treatments are available for osteoarthritis?

  • Pain relievers, including anti-inflammatory medications
  • Supplements, including glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, essential fatty acids, and elk velvet antler
  • Polysulfated glycosaminoglycans, also known as Adequan®

What can I do for my pet with osteoarthritis?

  • Continue with gentle exercise, as long as your pet is comfortable
  • Place rugs on hard surfaces so your pet has better traction
  • Use a harness or sling like this one to aid your pet

#2: Cognitive dysfunction

Similar to dementia in people, cognitive dysfunction represents a state of senility in pets. This condition typically affects dogs, but you may also notice neurologic or behavioral changes in your cat. Affected pets become disoriented, anxious, and confused, and their sleep cycle may change. Some pets do not remember commands, or exhibit a strange behavior of standing in a corner, facing the wall. 

What treatments are available for cognitive dysfunction?

  • Medications, such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • Prescription diet change
  • Supplements, including antioxidants or amino acids

What can I do for my pet with cognitive dysfunction?

  • Don’t make any big changes at home, such as introducing a new pet or rearranging furniture.
  • Help your pet stay fit and mentally sharp with routine exercise, training, and sensory activities.

#3: Heart disease

Degenerative heart valve diseases are common in pets, particularly small-breed dogs. The first sign of a problem is often an incidental heart murmur that your veterinarian hears during a physical exam. Disease progression can eventually lead to heart failure and a variety of clinical signs, including increased respiratory rate, coughing, distended abdomen, and inability to exercise. 

What treatments are available for heart disease?

  • Medications to address the heart muscle, fluid build-up, blood pressure, or coughing
  • Surgery, depending on the underlying condition 

What can I do for my pet with heart disease?

  • Monitor your pet’s resting respiratory rate, which should typically be no higher than 30 breaths per minute. 
  • Closely monitor your pet and immediately get her rechecked with your veterinarian if signs worsen

#4: Kidney disease

When the kidneys lose two-thirds of their filtering ability, abnormalities show up in the blood, alerting your veterinarian. Many pets have concurrent signs once they reach this point, including increased drinking and urination, vomiting, dehydration, or bad breath, as a result of a condition called uremia. Chronic kidney disease can occur as a result of kidney injury, or due to degenerative changes.  

What treatments are available for kidney disease?

  • Fluid therapy
  • Prescription diet change 
  • Medications to address nausea and vomiting 
  • Supplements to address potassium and phosphorus changes

What can I do for my pet with kidney disease?

  • Provide plenty of fresh water at all times
  • Encourage your pet to eat canned or wet food 
  • Monitor for worsening signs

#5: Cancer

Cancer, which is characterized by the malignant spread of abnormal cells, can occur in virtually any body system and is an unfortunate reality for many aging pets. Clinical signs vary widely, but pets suffering from cancer may exhibit inappetence, weight or muscle loss, vomiting or diarrhea, a distended abdomen, or weakness. 

What treatments are available for cancer?

  • Treatments depend greatly on the type of cancer
  • Treatments can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of procedures 
  • Medications for concurrent signs such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea 

What can I do for my pet with cancer?

  • Provide your pet with loving care and comfort
  • Encourage eating by hand-feeding and trying different foods, if your veterinarian approves
  • Monitor your pet closely for worsening signs or deterioration
  • Consider keeping a daily journal to log your observations and continually assess your pet’s quality of life 

Remember to consult your veterinarian before starting a new diet or supplement for your pet. Contact us with any questions, or to set up an appointment for your senior pet.