Common Illnesses in Senior Pets

A Guide to Understanding and Managing Common Health Issues in Aging Pets
Common Illnesses in Senior Pets

As our furry companions gracefully age, they become more susceptible to a range of common illnesses that can impact their health and vitality. The golden years bring wisdom and charm, but also potential health challenges for our senior pets. Understanding and recognizing these common illnesses is crucial for pet parents to provide the best possible care, ensuring our aging companions enjoy a comfortable and happy life. Let’s dive in!


As pets enter their golden years, metabolic changes and decreased activity levels make them particularly susceptible to weight gain. Obesity in senior pets can lead to a myriad of health problems, including joint issues, diabetes, respiratory problems, and cardiovascular diseases. The added weight exacerbates conditions like arthritis, making movement painful and contributing to a sedentary lifestyle that further compounds the problem. This not only diminishes their overall quality of life but also increases the risk of chronic ailments, limiting their ability to enjoy their senior years with us to the fullest.

Diet plays a pivotal role, and our healthy pet care specialists may recommend a specialized senior pet food that addresses their nutritional requirements without excess calories. Smaller portions spread out multiple meals, coupled with regular exercise, can aid in weight loss, and improve overall mobility. It’s essential to monitor progress closely with regular body condition checks and adjust the treatment plan as needed. Additional interventions may be recommended such as medications or supplements to support weight loss and manage associated health issues.

Preventing senior pet obesity is key to ensuring  healthy and active sunset years for our furry friends. Losing the weight once already on is much more difficult than preventing the weight gain to begin with. Regular veterinary check-ups are essential to monitor weight and identify potential health concerns early on. Pet owners should focus on providing a balanced and age-appropriate diet, adjusting portions as needed to maintain a healthy weight. Incorporating regular, low-impact exercise into a senior pet’s routine, such as gentle walks and interactive play, can help prevent weight gain and promote joint health. By being proactive in both treatment and prevention, pet owners can contribute to a longer, happier, and healthier life for our senior companions.


As our beloved furry friends gracefully enter this period, they may encounter arthritis, a condition that causes pain and inflammation in the joints. It can be both managed and prevented with a little extra care but if left unaddressed, it can significantly alter their quality of life. You might notice your once sprightly companion taking a bit more time to rise from their cozy spot or showing a preference for leisurely strolls rather than high-energy play. Unfortunately, many symptoms of arthritis are mistaken as part of the “normal” aging process.

– Difficulty with stairs and getting on/off furniture
– No longer using their favourite perches
– Less active and sleeping more often
– Limping or lameness
– Loss of muscle mass in backend
– Trouble squatting for bathroom or more accidents in the house
– Increased irritability or sensitivity to touch

The diagnosis typically involves a comprehensive examination, where your pet’s joints are gently assessed, and blood work and X-rays may be recommended to rule out any underlying condition, such as bone cancer. X-rays are also used to assess the degree of degeneration. There is no cure for arthritis but there are treatments to slow the progression and ease the discomfort. Treatment options often include medications to ease pain such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and joint supplements like glucosamine, chondroitin, omega-3s, and much more to promote flexibility and mobility. In some cases, alternative therapies such as massages, physical therapy, hydrotherapy, and acupuncture has been shown to improve mobility and quality of life.

Preventing arthritis involves embracing the role of a proactive pet parent. Keep those tails wagging and kitty paws padding by maintaining an ideal weight through a well-balanced diet, as extra pounds can put unnecessary stress on joints. Including joint supplements before symptoms occur can help hold off any progression.  Regular exercise, even in the form of gentle play or short walks, is the key to keeping those joints limber. With a combination of love, attention, and a watchful eye, you can ensure your senior companion continues to age gracefully.

Diabetes Mellitus

While navigating the world of senior pet health, we often encounter the challenge of diabetes mellitus, a condition that affects our older furry friends much more frequently than their younger counterparts. Keep an eye out for an increase in water consumption and more frequent bathroom breaks—key signs that your pet might be dealing with diabetes. You may also notice cloudy eyes, especially in dogs, and reoccurring infections. If your once spry companion is suddenly less enthusiastic about playtime and seems to be losing weight despite a hearty appetite, it’s time for a trip to the vet’s office.

Diagnosis is made based on the clinical signs discussed and persistently high levels of glucose in the blood and urine. Fear not, for the treatment journey is paved with love and care. Managing diabetes in senior pets may involve a combination of insulin injections, a carefully tailored diet, and regular monitoring of their glucose levels. Their diet and feeding schedule is very important. Pet parents will want to feed them the same food, in the same amount, at the same time each day so our furry friends can achieve consistent insulin regulation. Prognosis is good, as long as we are committed to treatment and monitoring. If caught early, treatment may lead to remission, where they are no longer considered diabetic and do not require insulin therapy, though regular monitoring is still recommended.

Preventative MeasureTips/Reasoning
Maintain a healthy weight – Obesity is a well-known leading cause of diabetes
– Control portion sizes, treats, and access to human food
– Regular exercise
Healthy diet – Quality ingredients with high protein content and minimal carbohydrates
– Single ingredient high protein treats are best
Regular Vet Visits – To discuss their eating habits and identify any subtle changes
– Regular blood work/urinalysis to diagnose and treat early for best chance of remission

Kidney Disease

Embarking on the delightful journey of senior pet companionship may bring us face to face with kidney disease, a condition that demands a thoughtful approach to our aging friends’ well-being. The kidneys act as a filtration system, removing many waste products from their blood. Normally, these waste products are eliminated through the urine. When kidneys are not functioning to full capacity, due to damage, aging or other processes, waste products are no longer filtered and build up in the bloodstream.

Compensated Kidney FailureThe earliest signs:
– Increased thirst
– Increased urination
Advanced Kidney Failure – Loss of appetite and weight loss
– Lethargy
– Vomiting & Diarrhea
– Bad Breath

If you spot these signals, a visit to the veterinarian’s office becomes a necessary step towards understanding and addressing kidney concerns in our furry companions.

Blood tests and urinalysis take center stage, unveiling clues about our pet’s kidney function and overall health. The bloodwork will assess the levels of waste products such as blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and blood creatine (CREA) which indicate decreased kidney function. Also, high levels of SDMA (a naturally occurring indicator of kidney function) can help indicate the early stages of kidney disease before BUN and CREA levels will indicate an issue. The blood test will also show levels of substances like albumin, minerals like phosphorus and calcium, as well as white blood cells to help determine the best course of treatment.

Kidney Disease Treatment
Phase 1Phase 2
– High doses of intravenous fluids are given to flush out the kidneys and bloodstream.
– Helps mildly damaged kidney cells function again
– Helps replace various electrolytes, especially potassium
– The second phase of treatment is to help keep the kidneys functioning as long and as normal as possible by using one or more of the following:
– The Diet
– A Phosphate Binder
– Home Fluid Therapy
– Proteinuria Therapy

Preventing kidney disease can be a tricky task as there can be a variety of causes. Kidney disease can be inherited, and many responsible breeders have taken steps in preventing the chronic disease within their breeding program. Many acute cases are due to our little friends ingesting toxic substances such as antifreeze, grapes, pesticides, and some plants, so we need to do our best to prevent their access to these items. The infectious disease leptospirosis is also a culprit behind kidney disease and can be prevented through regular vaccination. The best prevention we can provide our pets is a healthy diet, appropriate exercise, and regular vet visits to keep them healthy and happy for as along as possible and catch any changes right away.

Hyperthyroidism & Hypothyroidism

On our senior journey with our pets, and especially our cats, we might encounter thyroid imbalances, where hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism play their quirky roles. Hyperthyroidism is increasingly common in senior cats and becomes a higher and higher risk as they get older. This is similar to its counterpart hypothyroidism, though not as common, and is seen mostly in senior dogs.

The overproduction of thyroid hormone and the subsequent increase in metabolism. Many organs are affected, especially the heart Most commonly seen in senior catsCondition caused by the inactivity of the thyroid gland leading to low levels of thyroid hormone and a low rate of metabolism. Affects many organ systems.
Restless, increased aggression, increased vocalization, weight loss despite ravenous appetite, high blood pressure The high blood pressure can lead to cardiomyopathy, retinol detachment and kidney disease.Weight gain without appetite, lethargy, cold intolerance, dry coat & increased shedding, increased ear & skin infections, high blood cholesterol, and slow heart rate. It can also cause abnormal functioning of the nerves causing lameness and lack of coordination.
Blood test performed to look for high levels of TT4.Blood test performed to look for low levels of TT4. Confirmed with low levels of T4 when a “Free T4 by ED” test is performed.

When it comes to hypothyroidism, there is no cure, but treatment with lifelong medication can help them live a normal happy life. Hyperthyroidism has a few treatment options. They do have the option of oral medication to restore the normal levels of thyroid hormone that requires regular blood tests to monitor for rare, but serious side effects. There is also the choice of treating our purrfect friends by feeding an iodine-limited diet to lower the levels, but must be the only food fed, including treats. In some cases, your veterinarian may be able to offer radioactive iodine therapy which destroys the abnormal thyroid tissue without endangering the other organs. With surgery, they may also be able to remove the affected thyroid gland(s) to treat the condition. In both of these cases, recurrence is rare.

As we wrap up this exploration of common illnesses in our senior pets, let’s remember that each sneeze, shuffle, or slower tail wag tells a unique tale of aging and resilience. Our furry friends may face their share of health hiccups as they gracefully enter their golden years, but with a sprinkle of love, a dash of veterinary care, and a pinch of preventive measures, we can ensure that their senior journey remains as charming and delightful as their youthful escapades. Understanding and embracing the quirks of our senior companions allows us to be the best partners in their journey through the whimsical landscape of aging. Here’s to more years of cuddles, joy, and health for our beloved senior pets!!!

Written By

Taylor Luther

Marketing Lead, Customer Engagement

Taylor completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Biology at the University of Guelph and has built up experience within the pet nutrition industry and the animal medical field. She has a passion to share all insights on pet nutrition and health for all of our furry (feathery, scaly or otherwise) friends.

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