Health guide for older cats and dogs

When you’re a pet owner, often you’ll have questions about your pet’s health and might need some guidance on how best to care for them. From the crazy initial weeks of bringing a puppy or kitten home to the years of comfort as they grow to become a member of your family, caring for a pet can be one of the best parts of life for many Australians. With the right level of love and care, they can live for many years – meaning more time to make happy memories.

A senior pet is usually from seven or eight years old onwards for dogs and 11 years onwards for cats. Sometimes as your pet ages, they’ll start to have different needs in order to thrive. But just because they are approaching their senior years, this doesn’t mean they can’t still enjoy life. Australian Seniors has released this guide to keeping older cats and dogs happy and healthy as they age. 

Common health problems for older cats and dogs

Something to be aware of as your pets get older is that they become more susceptible to health issues. But if you’re armed with the right knowledge you can take steps to care for them across a range of common health problems, such as:


  • Loss of hearing and sight: Degeneration of vision and hearing is common in older dogs, as is the potential to develop cataracts.
  • Osteoarthritis: Joint pain and stiffness are often progressive as your dog ages and can cause pain in their shoulders, hips and legs when moving.
  • Cancer: Keep an eye out for unusual bumps and lumps on your dog as they age, with senior dogs at an increased risk of contracting some form of cancer.
  • Heart disease: Congestive heart failure is a common health risk in older dogs. Watch out for symptoms like not wanting to exercise, excessive coughing and unexplained vomiting.
  • Obesity: Because older dogs tend to slow down, it’s easy for them to put on weight if you don’t adjust their diet. There’s senior-specific food on the market, and always be sure to keep up the exercise – even if daily walks aren’t as long as they used to be.


  • Kidney disease: Chronic renal disease comes about either due to a medical condition or old age. If your cat displays symptoms like sudden weight loss, vomiting and increased thirst, see your vet for urgent treatment.
  • Arthritis: Bones weaken naturally in old age, which means arthritis is common for senior cats. Changing your cat’s environment so it’s easier for them to move around is recommended.
  • Diabetes mellitus: Overweight cats tend to be more susceptible to this as seniors. Early detection is vital, so your cat can receive treatment to extend their life.
  • Hyperthyroidism: The symptoms of hyperthyroidism vary from cat to cat, but being more active all of a sudden, an increased heart rate and lack of sheen in their coat are common indicators.
  • Decreased appetite: This could be a sign of any number of feline health issues. And because cats are good at hiding their health problems – even when they are very senior – it’s up to you to keep an eye on any changes in their habits. 

Food needs for older pets

Just as human babies need special food that contains all the right nutrients for growing bodies, senior pets might need specialised food that is age-appropriate and meets their changing needs. If you want more information on giving your pet the right food in their old age, read our diet guide for older cats and dogs. Keep in mind this will likely vary depending on your pet so it’s always best to check with your vet before making any changes to your pet’s diet.

Care requirements

Aside from things like keeping your senior pet warm during winter, there are some special considerations as they get older:

  • Regular vet visits: Many diseases are hidden, and you won’t be able to tell your pet has them without a vet’s expertise.
  • Mouth inspection: Dental issues become more pronounced in old age, so either brush your pet’s teeth or give them dental chew toys.
  • Fortify your pet’s diet: In dogs, for example, the addition of fatty acids like DHA and EPA in senior diets have been shown to help with animals with mobility issues.
  • Special accommodations: Add soft bedding to their sleeping mat, put ramps over stairs and place carpet or rugs down on hard floors to help alleviate pain from diseases such as arthritis

Exercise in older age 

Despite age and illnesses slowing them down, your pet will still want to exercise. For senior cats this may mean changing their environment, so they aren’t jumping as far or as high to reach their play things. For dogs, walking is essential and can help manage weight issues as well as maintain healthy muscles and joints. Be careful on hot days and ensure you tailor the exercise for your dog’s individual requirements.

How to ensure your pet’s last years are comfortable and happy

You of course want your pet to be as comfortable as possible in their twilight years, so aside from the above, also focus on things like:

  • coat maintenance – including regular brushing and grooming
  • installing doggy doors or adding a ramp to the back door so they can access the backyard more easily
  • consider a grass pad inside the house so they can do their business without exerting themselves too much
  • a dog jacket to keep them warm on cooler days and nights
  • a warmer bed at night, especially if they develop arthritis in their senior years

In terms of what not to do, try to avoid making any drastic changes to your pet’s home environment, because if their sight or hearing has declined then they may become frightened by unfamiliar settings. Similarly, monitor how your pet responds to things like exercise and feeding, and adjust those habits as appropriate. As always, keep in touch with your vet about any changes to ensure your senior pet continues to live their best life.

Our pets can be our life long companions who rely on us as much as we rely on them. Adapting to their changing needs as they age may require some lifestyle changes on both your part and theirs, however by gradually making these changes and consulting your veterinarian before you implement anything new, the transition can be easier for both of you.

With age often comes an increased chance of injury and illness, which is why pet insurance can put your mind at ease that you’ll be financially covered in the event of the unexpected. If your pet is under 9 years of age, they may be eligible for pet insurance covering Accident and Illness, and if they are 9 years of age or over, for Accident Only cover. To find out more, request a quote online.


The content in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified animal health provider with any questions or concerns you may have about an animal health condition or nutrition.