Allen Heights Veterinary Hospital

289 Dalton Avenue
Pittsfield, MA 01201


Geriatric Pet Care

Dogs And Cats Living Longer, Healthier Lives

Woman kisses elderly Golden Retriever

It may seem like just yesterday when you brought home your puppy or kitten. But lately, you've noticed a slowdown in your pet’s daily activities.

Is this a sign of old age? Generally, dogs and cats are considered geriatric after 8 to 12 years of age. Cats and small dogs tend to age more slowly and live longer than large dogs, according to an article by Dr. Theresa Fuess, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois.

Signs of Geriatric Pet Aging

Like people, pets are individual in how they age.

One of the most commons signs of aging is slowing down. It will take your dog longer to get up from a lying position, and climbing stairs won’t be as easy as it used to be. Problems with vision and hearing are also common as pets age, according to The Senior Dogs Project. You may notice your pet doesn't respond as quickly when you speak to him or he may hesitate to go up or down a flight of stairs when the lighting isn't as bright.

Older pets also sleep longer hours at a time and dream heavily.


It’s not uncommon for dogs to live 14 to 15 years these days.

Tips for Geriatric Pet Care

It’s not uncommon for dogs to live 14 to 15 years these days. Here are some tips to ensure your pet has a long, healthy life.

Elderly dog
  • Visit your veterinarian once every six months for checkups. Blood tests, urinalyses and fecal examines are important to ensure that health problems are detected immediately, says Maryanne Dell, certified dog trainer and pet columnist in Orange County, Calif.
  • Feed your dog the best food possible. Keep in mind that as dogs age, their metabolic rate slows up to 30 percent; they don’t need as much food as they used to. Less protein and more fat could be needed to maintain health as your pet ages, Dell says. Nutritional supplements may be beneficial for older dogs.
  • Keep exercising. It’s still important to engage your dog in physical activity, but it’s OK to adjust the duration and intensity to fit his needs.
  • Maintain pet dental health. Rotting teeth can cause gum and mouth infections, and these infections can migrate to vital organs. Brush your dog’s teeth every other day and have his teeth cleaned professionally as much as your veterinarian recommends.
  • Maintain good pet grooming. The state of your pet’s fur is a good indicator of overall health, Dell says. Dull, dry fur that falls out is a sign of poor health.

Grow Old Together

Just because your pet is heading into his senior years doesn’t mean you can’t still have the fulfilling relationship you’re used to. Becoming informed about the special needs of older pets is the first step in keeping your pet healthy. With the proper care and attention, your pet might just be there as you enter your golden years!

If you liked this article, you may enjoy reading about keeping pets healthy all year and maintaining pet dental health.


 Possible Behavior Changes in Older Pets

  • Increased reaction to sounds
  • Increased vocalization
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Decreased interaction w/humans
  • Increased irritability
  • Decreased response to commands
  • Increased aggressive/protective behavior
  • Increased anxiety
  • House soiling
  • Decreased self-hygiene/grooming
  • Repetitive activity
  • Increased wandering
  • Change in sleep cycles

Signs of Arthritis in Pets

  • Favoring a limb
  • Difficulty sitting or standing
  • Sleeping more
  • Seeming to have stiff or sore joints
  • Hesitancy to jump, run or climb stairs
  • Weight gain
  • Decreased activity or interest in play
  • Attitude or behavior changes (including increased irritability)
  • Being less alert


Older Pet Care Considerations

Area of concernDescription
Increased veterinary careGeriatric pets should have semi-annual veterinary visits instead of annual visits so signs of illness or other problems can be detected early and treated. Senior pet exams are similar to those for younger pets, but are more in depth, and may include dental care, possible bloodwork, and specific checks for physical signs of diseases that are more likely in older pets.
Diet and nutritionGeriatric pets often need foods that are more readily digested, and have different calorie levels and ingredients, and anti-aging nutrients
Weight controlWeight gain in geriatric dogs increases the risk of health problems, whereas weight loss is a bigger concern for geriatric cats.
Parasite controlOlder pets' immune systems are not as healthy as those of younger animals; as a result, they can't fight off diseases or heal as fast as younger pets
Maintaining mobilityAs with older people, keeping older pets mobile through appropriate exercise helps keep them healthier and more mobile.
VaccinationYour pet's vaccination needs may change with age. Talk to your veterinarian about a vaccination program for your geriatric pet.
Mental healthPets can show signs of senility. Stimulating them through interactions can help keep them mentally active. If any changes in your pet's behavior are noticed, please consult your veterinarian.
Environmental considerationsOlder pets may need changes in their lifestyle, such as sleeping areas to avoid stairs, more time indoors, etc. Disabled pets have special needs which can be discussed with your veterinarian
Reproductive diseasesNon-neutered/non-spayed geriatric pets are at higher risk of mammary, testicular, and prostate cancers.


The AVMA offers several additional resources for pet owners, including brochures that are available online and can be downloaded and printed at no charge.