Age - Part 3: Subtle Signs of Illness

It is very easy for us to attribute the changes we see in our older pets to the process of “aging”, however, these changes hold the key to detecting problems earlier, and possibly treating them while there is a better chance of successful management.

Changes in behaviour

Cognitive dysfunction can occur in our pets, similar to Alzheimer’s or dementia in people. You may notice things like your pet forgetting his potty training, odd sleeping habits, staring at things (or nothing), barking at nothing, or paying less attention to you. Different diets, medication, and supplements can help slow the brain aging process.

Changes in mobility

A large number of our patients develop and suffer from arthritis as they get older. Just like humans, our pets benefit greatly from pain medication and supplements to improve joint health. Look for a decreased ability to jump, slowness in getting up after sleeping or sitting, and a slower walk.

Weight gain and loss

Unintended weight gain and weight loss over a short period of time can indicate that there may be an underlying disease in your senior pet. Keep this in mind because it’s easy to overlook a 10lb cat losing 2lbs but that is equal to 20% of its body weight, equivalent to a 150lb person losing 30lbs!

Changes in eating habits

Our pets’ appetite is usually quite predictable and consistent, pay attention if your pet is eating less, or preferring different foods (wet vs dry) as it could point to underlying disease (e.g. kidney disease, pancreatitis, cancer) or pain (e.g. dental pain, arthritic pain).
Don’t ignore if your cat is vomiting more “hairballs” either! A recent study showed that the majority of chronic vomiting cats (more than twice a month) have an underlying inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, or gastrointestinal lymphoma.

Changes in thirst

Increased thirst and bigger or more frequent urination can indicate serious underlying diseases (such as kidney disease, diabetes, thyroid disease and more).

Importance of Routine Screening

When an animal appears to be “getting old”, they are already starting to undergo aging changes. We want to work with you to help your pets stay happy, healthy and pain-free for as long as possible, and as the saying goes “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. We want to set up preventative health programs for your pet as they age, but we need to know what we are up against in order to do so – this can involve some or all of the following:

Thorough Physical Exam

– Allows us to detect changes in vision, muscle mass, joint mobility
– Allows us to screen for any new lumps or bumps that may warrant investigation
– Allows us to assess dental health – this is VERY important to longevity, overall health and comfort, as dental disease is painful and can spread bacteria to other organs – causing premature disease elsewhere in the body
– Allows us to note changes in weight, and even small changes are important
– Allows us to listen to changes in the heart and lungs, and feel for changes in the abdominal organs and lymph nodes


– Changes in the Complete Blood Count can indicate anemia (which has many causes including chronic disease), certain cancers, and infections
– Changes in the Biochemistry Panel can indicate diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, gastrointestinal disease and more


– It is always ideal to evaluate blood and urine together, as changes are often seen in the urine before they can be detected in the blood!

Blood Pressure

– High blood pressure is common in aging pets, especially cats, due to various reasons including kidney disease, thyroid disease, and heart disease
– Treating blood pressure is important to decrease damage being done to various organs including the heart, eyes, brain, and kidneys

Radiographs (X-Rays)

– X-rays may be recommended to evaluate the heart or lungs when an abnormality is heard, or to evaluate the cause of a lameness, for example.

Remember, by the time signs of illness are noticeable, the disease is often quite advanced, so screening helps treat before it gets to that point (and treat with better success!). Exams and screening should be done annually at a minimum, often more frequently depending on ongoing conditions.

We want to help! Please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss your pets’ overall health, dental health, weight, mobility, for a Nutritional Consult or with any other questions or concerns you may have. It’s what we are here for!!!

Written by Briarwood Animal Hospital