Ask Dr Jane - Old Is Not a Disease

Age is just a number, quality of life is more important

Just like humans, there’s a biological clock ticking away which governs aging in pets. No matter how hard we fight against it, aging is inevitable for all creatures, great and small. However, we also know that with advances in nutrition, living standards and veterinary healthcare, our companion animals are living longer than ever before.

When we think about the age of, say, a dog or a cat, one year for them is equivalent to five and 7 years for us. The scientific word for the process of deterioration with age is “senescence”, and it happens faster in animals. That’s why it’s important that every pet owner is well informed, and prepared to help their pet maintain a good quality of life, even as they age.

As your pet becomes older, you’ll notice changes taking place with your pet’s appearance, behaviour and habits. Maybe they become stiffer after waking up and do not want to jump. There may be changes to their breathing, drinking, eating habits. They may gradually lose weight, and become less interested in exercise. You’ll likely notice that some of their senses are reduced, like sight, hearing, or smell. Sounds familiar?

Just like humans, pets often have chronic diseases which can be slow to develop. They may develop arthritis, dental disease, kidney, liver, and heart problems, all of which can make your pet feel pain or unwell. However, a cat and dog’s natural instinct is to hide disease and pain, as this would make them appear weak in the wild. This protective behaviour makes it difficult for pet owners to realise their pet is in pain or has problems. That’s why it is important to have regular veterinary health checks, ideally once a year for middle-aged pets, and every six months for more senior pets.

Seeing your beloved pet grow old is never easy. Fortunately, there are ways for owners to help their four-legged, furry friends stay healthy, happy, and live a longer life!


Here are a few tips to keep your older pet healthy and comfortable.


Interestingly, dogs and cats are not the same when it comes to aging and metabolic rates. Dogs more resemble humans – a slower metabolism coupled with a more sedentary lifestyle can lead to weight gain as they age. Cats, on the other hand, have an increased metabolic rate from around 11-years of age and often lose weight.

There are two simple ways you can adjust your senior cat or dog’s diet to help them age well:

  • Reduce levels of protein, sodium, calcium, and phosphorus in their diet help maintain kidney and heart health.
  • Increase fibre to aid digestion. Senior dogs often need to go on a diet, as they have less energy for running around. So be careful with those treats, to keep their waistlines trim.

Fortunately, there is a huge range of veterinary prescription food which can aid the treatment of chronic diseases, such as kidney, liver and heart disease, diabetes and arthritis.



Senior dogs and cat still need exercise. Just remember they may not be able to exercise as long or as hard as when they were puppies and kittens.

Cats are super-smart and can self-exercise. You just need to ensure they have the opportunity - give them boxes, tunnels, toys and places which they can use to play in, run, jump and hide.

Older dogs respond well to a uniform and regular exercise pattern. A lifestyle of six quiet days and then a ten-km hike on Sunday is best avoided. Little and often is the key. They should be allowed to pace themselves. Keep them active without over-exertion.



Seniors often have stiff joints with less muscle covering to protect them, and enjoy an extra-soft, warm bed.

  • Provide a soft bed, or some fluffy towels or blankets.
  • Older pets are more sensitive to extreme temperature, so be alert to your air-conditioning or heaters. Ideally, allow them to choose where they sleep.



Because of failing hearing, sight and smell, pets have a reduced ability to adapt to new environments or situations as they age. Older dogs and cats can become grumpy!

  • Seniors deserve consideration and respect; they may not want to play as much as before.
  • Of course, think carefully before introducing a new, younger pet into the household.



Dental issues are one of the major causes of pain and distress in aging pets. Pets can’t tell you they have toothache, so tend to “grin and bear it.” Take a regular look at their teeth to check for problems early on. Couple this with regular dental care and vet checks for good dental health.


Last but not least, the most important thing for your pet is that they have QUALITY OF LIFE ... old age is not a disease, but it can lead to hidden pain. Loving pet parents recognise the signs and act quickly to avoid suffering. Be kind and patient with your senior pets, and remember each day with them is a gift.