Although there is an abundance of information online about senior pet care, much of the information is based on treatment. Benjamin Franklin’s axiom “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is apropos. So, let’s start there – pounds, as in not letting our senior (or any age) pets gain too much weight.

How do we know if our pets are too heavy or thin?

Purina established Body Condition Scoring (BCS) to easily document proper weight for our pets. Additionally, Purina went on to prove in their 14-year lifespan study on paired Labrador litter mates that overweight pets are much more susceptible to medical conditions than proper weight pets. They also demonstrated dietary restriction can add nearly two more years of healthy life for dogs! Obesity increases the risk of arthritis, insulin resistance-causing diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease, hypertension, cancer, and other conditions. As pets age, their caloric requirement will most likely decrease.

What is a senior pet?

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) describes the designation, stating that most small animals are considered “senior” around age seven. As a practicing veterinarian for (gulp) over 20 years, I recommend that senior pets visit their veterinarian twice a year as there are many factors that affect how our pets’ age; size, breed, health status, and genetics.

What are often the first signs of aging?

Behavior changes are often the first indications of aging. The changes may be due to pain (arthritis or dental disease), anxiety (decreased vision and hearing), cognitive dysfunction, or can be just be part of the aging process. Common behavior changes that may be signs of cognitive dysfunction or anxiety are easily disturbed (by motion or sound), increased activity (vocalization, wandering, house soiling, aggression, neediness, etc.) or decreased activity (sleep, playing, responding, interacting with family, etc.).

What are some treatment options for physical and cognitive decline?

There are many ways to enhance cognitive function including environmental enrichment, nutritional, and pharmacologic intervention. Historically, anxiety was combatted by pharmacologic intervention, however there is a newer, safer, more holistic treatment called The Calmer Canine. It is a targeted pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (tPEMF) device that targets the amygdala – the part of the brain that processes anxiety.  It has been shown that using this revolutionary medical device for just two 15-minute treatments per day can substantially reduce anxiety and its symptoms in dogs.


If your pet is having difficulty jumping into cars, onto couches, beds or counters or even just rising from a sternal position without having their legs slide out from underneath them…. s/he may have arthritis. Some uncomfortable pets may even show irritation when petted or touched – being “grouchy.” Simple changes such as carpet runners on slippery floors or stairs, baby gates to prevent going into “unsafe” areas, toe-nail non-skid applications, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) or non-pharmaceutical anti-inflammatories (NPAIDs) such as the Assisi Loop can assuage the discomfort. The Assisi Loop is a targeted PEMF medical device that is used to alleviate pain and discomfort. It works by enhancing nitric oxide, the body’s own anti-inflammatory agent. It upregulates anti-inflammatory pathways and downregulates pro-inflammatory pathways in the body.

Over the counter treatments such as chondroitin, glucosamine, and omega-3 fatty acids may also relieve symptoms of pain and enhance joint mobility. Unfortunately, most nutraceuticals are not strictly regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) so what you think you are paying for on the label and in the bottle might not exactly represent what your pet is ingesting. It is best to make sure the supplements are tested and monitored by a third party and this website can help clear up confusion.

What about physical rehabilitation?

Physical rehabilitation for animals, just like physical therapy for humans, is a newer field in veterinary medicine. Many modalities used in rehabilitation have been shown to reduce pain and inflammation and enhance mobility in our pets. Some modalities can even prolong life. Modalities include basics such as heat therapy, ice therapy, or range of motion exercises. More advanced modalities include laser therapy, therapeutic ultrasound, land-based or underwater treadmills, neuromuscular or transcutaneous electrical stimulation, shockwave therapy, massage, acupuncture, and therapeutic exercises.

What about preventing cancer?

As pets age, so does their chance of developing cancer. There are many non-specific signs of cancer in pets so the most important thing for an owner to do is to keep track of change in weight, appetite, activity level, and those sometimes-common lumps and bumps. Those changes plus any difficulties in breathing, eating, or any bleeding should be promptly evaluated by your veterinarian.

Do you have a senior pet cheat sheet?

Yes! As you work to keep your senior pet in tip-top shape, here are my top recommendations:

  • Monitor your pet’s behavior, and if there are any changes, have them examined by their veterinarian.
  • Make sure your pets maintain proper weight.
  • Owners can learn a lot online – best to gather information and then make an informed decision with your veterinarian.
  • Never give your pet human medications unless you have discussed them with your veterinarian.
  • Don’t hesitate to think outside the box with newer modalities for age-related changes such as The Calmer Canine or The Assisi Loop – they can be a game-changer for your pets!


Long live our senior pets!