News & Advice

Golden Oldies – caring for your older pet

Apr 22, 2024 | Cats, Dogs, Health and Wellness, Pet Health

Beth Belin, Veterinarian, Anexa Vets Ngatea

Greying muzzles, slower gaits and longer naps are all outward signs of advancing age and as your pet ages it is easy to dismiss incremental changes in behaviour as “he’s just getting old”. However, it is important to remember that these outward changes reflect inner changes to your pet’s organs and metabolism. This is the time that being proactive with your pet’s health and implementing small changes can make a big difference to your animal’s quality of life and, ultimately, their longevity.

Dogs are generally regarded as “senior” when they are over six years old for large breeds and over nine years old for small/medium breeds. Cats are regarded as seniors when they are over nine years old. Regular health checks are important for aging animals so that health problems can be detected and treated as early as possible. Preventing and managing disease in its early stages will have a big impact on your pet’s quality of life and is often less costly.


Vaccinations and flea and worming

Senior pets can still be exposed to the potentially life-threatening diseases of parvovirus and leptospirosis and should be kept up to date with their annual vaccinations throughout their lives. Dogs who socialize with many other dogs (eg. attend a daycare, or work on shoots) should be kept up to date with their kennel cough vaccination as respiratory infections are often more severe in older animals. Senior pets also still need protection from internal and external parasites.

Black Labrador named Indy swimming in a farm trough. She looks very happy with a bog smile on her face.

Indy the 11 year old labrador still doing what labradors do best!



Changes in an aging pet’s metabolism make it harder for elderly animals to maintain their muscle mass. Older, less active dogs and cats are also prone to weight gain, which can further increase pressure on sore joints. Some animals start to show behavioural signs of senility. There are a variety of senior-specific diets available that aim to support mobility, skin and coat, muscle mass, joint and brain health. The Anexa team are here to help with advice on feeding and maintaining your senior pet within a healthy weight range.



As your dog gets older, you may notice that they cannot walk as far, tire more easily, seem stiffer after sleeping or are just generally slowing down. Cats may seem reluctant to jump up or start to become scruffy as they are less able to groom themselves. These are often early signs of arthritis that should not be ignored, as treating arthritis early in life (sometimes just with supplementation or monthly injections) slows the progression of the disease. There are many options for treating arthritis; joint supplements, injections (such as Beransa or Solensia), anti-inflammatories and keeping the pet at a healthy weight to name but a few. If you recognize any of these signs in your pet now is the time to book in for a consultation with your vet.

Lovely Mr Mort is a 12 year old cat who we see monthly for his Solensia injections at our Anexa Ngatea. Solensia is an anti-NGF monoclonal antibody which works by blocking the signaling cascade involved in arthritic pain. Solensia is a great option for cats as no medication needs to be given at home.



Older less active pets are prone to getting overly long or in-grown nails. This should not be ignored as overgrown nails can cause improper weight bearing and increase strain on arthritic joints and in-grown nails cause painful and avoidable pad infections. Our nursing team love to see their “golden oldies” for regular nail-trims throughout the year.


Smelly breath and tooth problems

Dental disease is a leading cause of pain and discomfort in older cats and dogs. Anyone who has ever had a toothache can sympathize with how life-altering this condition is but pain is not the only problem as dental disease can act as a source of infection that can damage other organs. Dental disease can be a problem long before the animal goes off food and is best treated early by your veterinary team.


Vet Barbara checks an older dog's teeth for dental disease.

Regular check-ups help catch dental disease early, when it is much easier to treat.


Many people are worried about their older animal having a general anaesthetic for a dental procedure and although there is always a degree of risk for any animal (or human), modern anaesthetics are generally considered safe and the team at Anexa do a large number of procedures on elderly animals every week. Your vet may suggest a pre-anaesthetic blood test to check your pet’s health before the procedure. We also advise on preventative dental care, from dental diets and supplements to tooth brushing.


General organ function and heart problems

As in people, heart disease in pets is more common amongst older patients. If your dog has started to lose breath on walks or developed a soft cough it is better to get them checked by your vet sooner rather than later. Furthermore, if you have noticed changes in your older pet’s drinking habits, appetite or weight these could indicate changes in liver or kidney function amongst others. Just as in elderly people, many elderly pets have frequent blood tests to help us monitor and maintain their organ function. For most pets blood tests are quick and non-stressful and give us a wealth of information about your animal’s health status.

Hyperthyroidism is a disease which is particularly prevalent among older cats. Typical signs are weight loss despite a good appetite, scruffy or unkempt coat and behavioural changes. Hyperthyroidism will shorten a cat’s life if not controlled but can be detected on a blood test and is treatable. More information on this here.



Unfortunately incontinence is a common in older female dogs and is often first noticed as wet patches on bedding where she has been lying. It is important to see your vet if you notice this problem as incontinence can lead to other issues if untreated. Your vet may ask you to catch a urine sample from your dog prior to your appointment. In most cases this age-related problem can be effectively managed with medication.


In summary, there are many ways that we can help you care for your senior pet. If your senior pet is overdue for vaccines or is showing any of the above signs, we recommend bringing them in to the clinic for a checkup. The Anexa team is here to help you keep your precious pet happy and healthy in their latter years.



More on arthritis…

New treatment option available for arthritic pets

Stiff, sore, irritable? Could your dog have signs of osteoarthritis?

Duke is happy on Beransa



More on blood tests…

Let your pet live their best life – Identify disease early with preventative care diagnostic testing

Why does my vet recommend pre-anaesthetic testing?




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