It happens so quickly. One minute we have a frisky little puppy or kitten and then, before we know it, we are caring for a senior pet. One minute we’re training them to go potty in the right place and making sure they have enough exercise. And, then the next, we’re having them wear diapers to deal with incontinence and making trips to the vet to check on their aches and pains.

According to Dr. Laura Wiles with our Vet Council, cats and dogs start being considered “senior” at about seven years of age (some dog breeds may be even earlier). Dr. Wiles offers these tips for pet parents to help them monitor the health of their senior pets:

Watch out for these signs of common age-related health issues:

  • Arthritis: A senior pet may be stiff after lying down and have a harder time getting their legs underneath them. They may be less willing to go for a walk and may not play like they used to.
  • Corneal cloudiness: Also known as lenticular sclerosis, it’s a bluish transparent haze in the lens of the eye that’s common in older pets. It doesn’t affect vision, but pet parents often mistake it for cataracts.
  • Deafness: This is the first sense to go in a senior pet. Owners will notice their pets may no longer greet them at the door as they can’t hear them coming.
  • Senility: Many cats and dogs become senile in their old age. This can be exhibited as behavior changes, strange vocalizations and sleep disturbance.

Be alert for symptoms of these more serious diseases:

  • Cancer: Symptoms vary widely depending on what organ is affected. Read more about the different types of pet cancers at
  • Cushing’s Disease: This is a condition in which the adrenal glands overproduce certain hormones. If your pet develops a pot bellied appearance, starts drinking large amounts of water and has skin problems, he could potentially have this disease.
  • Heart disease: Owners should watch for loss of stamina, coughing, discolored tongue (blue), and heavy breathing when at rest, which can be symptoms of heart disease.
  • Kidney disease: Symptoms include loss of muscle mass and drinking and urinating excessively.
  • Hypothyroidism: Signs to watch out for include weight gain and skin problems.

Switch from yearly to twice-yearly vet exams:

The good news is that, just like humans, our pets are living longer and staying healthier due to medical advances, excellent veterinarian care and better diets. To help keep your pets in the best health possible, visit your veterinarian twice a year for senior pet health checkups to help catch any problems. Early intervention may prolong your pet’s life. This is really important as pets are good at hiding signs that they’re ill.

In-between vet visits, be extra vigilant in watching for any health or behavior changes. This may include increased thirst or urination, loss of appetite or weight, stiffness, lumps, shortness of breath or uncharacteristic aggression. If you suspect your pet may have a health issue, see your vet immediately.

And finally, if you have a senior pet who has started to have frequent accidents, some extra home and furniture protection may save your sanity. Disposable and washable diapers help deal with random incontinence, while stain and odor removers will ensure that the mess is taken care of correctly.