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Geriatric Dog and Cat Care:

1.  Care of the older cat pet:

In general, cats tend to live longer than dogs.  The average lifespan of a cat is 12 to 15 years.  However, these days, many cats are living extremely healthy lives all the way into their late teens, and a few into their 20's.  As cats age, they tend to sleep more and are increasingly less active.  Some elderly cats can be more irritable and less tolerant of change.  As cats age, their organs (especially their kidneys) tend to work less optimally.  In addition, many of their senses, such as smell, sight and hearing, tend to deteriorate as well.  

Older cats oftentimes do not groom as well as when they were younger.  This can lead to hair matting problems.  If hair matting gets severe enough, it can cause problems with the health of their skin.  Gentle brushing once to twice weekly can help mitigate this problem.  If your cat gets excessively matted, be careful when trying to remove mats.  Although tempting to remove mats with scissors, all too easily, one can cut a cat's skin not realizing how thin cat skin truly is and oftentimes underestimating consequently how close the mat is to their skin surface.  It is safer to remove mats with a pair of electric clippers.  Your would be surprised to hear how often cats come in to the hospital for "emergency" laceration repairs caused by trying to cut out mats at home.

It is important to check your older cat's skin and nails regularly.  Any lumps should be brought to a veterinarians attention.  Older cat nails tend to grow fast and thick, oftentimes capable of growing in a complete circle and becoming in-grown into the pet's paw if an owner is not being observant.   Trimming your cat's nails on an "as needed" basis is the easy solution to avoid such self-inflicted unintentional problem.  If you ever need assistance cutting your cat's nails, feel free to call the hospital and we can perform the task for you.

One common gastrointestinal problem in older cats is constipation.  Impart this can be due to a decrease in an older cat's gastrointestinal tract's motility.  Hair balls can contribute to constipation issues.  Furthermore, decreased organ function capabilities such as chronic kidney failure can results in an older cat being slightly more dehydrated on a regular basis.  That too can also lead to constipation problems.  The occasional use of a cat laxative or offering canned pumpkin as a regular component of their diet can aid in the minimization of constipation problems. 

Dental disease is a major problem that plagues many older cats.  Although dental cleanings do require anesthesia, even in the older patient, ensuring good oral hygiene is extremely important.  Not only does it help preserve teeth health, it also helps to prevent infectious disease getting from the mouth to other vital organ systems such as the heart, liver, kidneys and brain. 

2.  Care of the older dog:

Within the last several decades, due to the elevated status of pets in the family, as well as due to advances in veterinary care, there has been a dramatic increase in the longevity of both our dog and cat pets.  Dogs too are also living much longer, healthier lives.  But unlike cats, not all dogs age at the same "rate".  The general rule of thumb is that the smaller the dog breed, the slower the rate at which they age.   In other words, a 8 year old Great Dane is considered to be MUCH older than say an 8 year old chihuahua.  So when is a dog considered to be "geriatric"?  Below is a table outlining the answer to this question:

Size of Dog                        Age at which they are considered to be "geriatric"

Toy / Small breeds (<20 lbs)  ..................... 12-13 yrs

Medium breeds (21-50 lbs)   ........................ 10-11 yrs

Large breeds (51-90 lbs)   ........................... 8-11 yrs

Giant breeds (>90 lbs)   ............................. 6-8 yrs


Like in the case of geriatric cats, as dogs age, functional changes tend to occur affecting most of their major organ systems.  Oftentimes these changes can be anticipated  such that changes can be put in place before problems affecting quality of life arise.  Since every geriatric pet is different, it is important to discuss with your veterinarian what the best plan will be for your older pet when that time comes. 

Listed below are just some of the changes that can happen in our older dog (and cat) patients: 

*  Changes in their overall metabolic rate -  As is the case with people, when pets age, their metabolic rate overall decreases.  Consequently, it is important to make changes in our older pet's diet.  In general, as contrasted with a younger animal, an older pet's energy requirements are less.  They simply do not need as many calories.  So if no change is made, the older pet with become overweight.  The best way to ensure that your older pet is not consuming too many extra calories is portion / meal feedings as well as ideally feeding a "senior diet".  These diets tend to be higher in fiber / lower in overall calorie content thereby providing a diet more specially formulated to meet your senior pet's true needs.

*  Changes in their cardiovascular system -  Heart disease is a common problem in many older dog and cats.  Both valvular disease as well as cardiomyopathies (heart muscle disorders) are often chronic, progressive medical disorders that can oftentimes lead to congestive heart failure.  These problems do have medical treatment options when they occur. 

*  Changes in their respiratory health -  tracheal problems, pneumonia, asthma, bronchitis are just a few of the common respiratory disorders we can see in older pets.  When left unchecked, they can lead to great discomfort for your pet.  Therefore, it is always important to have your pet examined if there are any concerns regarding your older pet's breathing abilities. 

*  Changes in their urinary system -  There are many degenerative changes that occur in an older pet's kidneys.  Eventually, these changes can lead to serious kidney failure.  Early diagnosis and early intervention is the key when it comes to doing everything possible to slow this process down. 

*  Changes in dental health -  Progressive periodontal disease is an overwhelmingly common problem leading to teeth loss in our older pets.  Routine teeth cleanings is essential for keeping your older pet's mouth healthy.  Symptoms associated with likely underlying periodontal disease problems include the following:  bad breath, oral pain, reluctance to chew / eat food and sometimes weight loss.

“An animal's eyes have the power to speak a great language.” -Martin Buber

“A house is not a home without a pet.” -unknown