Probably 3-4 times a week we hear owners say “its just old age”. Unfortunately at vet school there is no disease we get taught about called “old age”. Why is it that as cats and dogs age we as owners put a lot of things down to old age. 

Here is a list of some clinical signs that are typically reported by owners as “old age”:

  • Getting the owners up during the night
  • Drinking more 
  • Passing urine and faeces in the house
  • Becoming more fussy with food
  • Weight loss
  • Odd behaviours i.e. barking at new things
  • Staring and circling

This is not an exhaustive list and if you asked any vet there would be many more that could be added to it.

This blog is to try to provide an insight into what could be underlying these “old age: changes:

  • Getting owners up in the night

As both cats and dogs get older they can start to meow/ howl or bark over night. This could be caused by high blood pressure (hypertension) in cats, studies have shown yowling at night can be caused by hypertension. Barking at night by dogs could be a sign of the start of doggie dementia – yes this is a condition called Cognitive Behavioural Dysfunction.

  • Increased drinking 

Many conditions can cause an increase in thirst (polydipsia) including renal disease, liver disease, diabetes mellitus and secondary to certain tumours. Owners often expect that their pets kidneys may start to fail as they get older but not that many people know there are supportive measures for chronic renal disease such as a special kidney diet, monitoring blood pressure and medication to reduce protein loss through the kidneys.

  • Passing urine and faeces in the house

As dogs get older they can develop incontinence, in female dogs this can be associated with a reduction in their bladder sphincter so they start to drip urine when they are relaxed or asleep. Medication for this can dramatically reduce this and improve their and their owners quality of life. If dogs are passing faeces in the house overnight maybe consider when they are fed? Is it worth feeding earlier so they can pass their last defaecation before bed? Are they able to get up and into a comfortable position to pass faeces or is it worth considering trying some pain relief? Is the faeces firm and normal?
Odd behaviours 

Cognitive behavioural dysfunction (doggie dementia) is a syndrome that can become apparent from the age of 11 years plus. Often owners don’t report these subtle changes at booster check ups and often they come to accept it as “the dog is just getting older”. But there are a number of changes to be aware of:

Disorientation – often they can become lost in the house, often being vocal at night as they don’t know where they are

Interaction – they can become more reactive or maybe more dependent on their owner

Sleep – the sleep cycle changes and can often be asleep in the day and awake at night

House soiling– again pain from osteoarthritis should be considered

Activity– can often be reduced

Anxiety– changes in how they cope with scenarios they were once fine with i.e. avoiding puddles.

As you can see many of the behaviours or clinical signs that owners put down to “old age” may actually be signs of some underlying medical conditions. Although these conditions are necessarily reversible early supportive treatment can help your older pets to live a happier and more settled life, improving both theirs and your quality of life.