Senior pets need care, comfort and lots of cuddles from us

By Dr Anne Quain
Updated June 10 2024 - 3:24pm, first published June 9 2024 - 4:00am


The good news is that there is plenty that we can do to look after our beloved "oldies".
The good news is that there is plenty that we can do to look after our beloved "oldies".

Do you, or have you, cared for a senior pet? The better we are able to look after animals, the longer they will typically live.

The availability of good diets, better preventive care (including paralysis tick prevention) and better overall urban animal management (cat curfews, dog leash laws, fencing around dog parks) mean our companions are living longer.

But the care needs of animals in their sunset years can increase. Last month, caring for senior companion animals was a key focus of the Australian Veterinary Association's annual conference.

The good news is that there is plenty that we can do to look after our beloved "oldies".

Keynote speaker Dr Sheilah Robertson, a veterinarian who specialises in anaesthesia and animal welfare, discussed six key areas she focuses on with her senior and palliative care patients.


Like us, older animals may suffer from chronic pain, such as that caused by old injuries, arthritis or other musculoskeletal conditions. It is important to investigate the source(s) of pain, where possible, and use a combination of medications (known as multi-modal analgesia) to address that pain.


Anxiety may increase with age. Pain can cause or exacerbate anxiety, but importantly, anxiety can exacerbate pain. Thus treatment of anxiety with supplements or medication can be integral in addressing pain.


Older pets are less active, and may have reduced muscle mass. They may also be stiff, or have other issues such as impaired vision or hearing, that reduces their confidence to move around.

Ensuring animals have regular, gentle exercise can be helpful. Physical therapy may also help maintain muscle mass. Joint supplements may be appropriate in some animals. And environmental modification is critical. That includes things like providing non-slip flooring, raised food bowls, ramps or non-slip stairs where appropriate, so animals can manage their daily activities.


A constant supply of fresh water is vital. Some animals prefer flowing water. To meet this need, there are a range of water fountains available online.

Others, particularly cats, seem to like drinking out of certain vessels like glass or crystal (I am not sure where cats acquired this taste but can attest I see this a lot in feline patients).

The provision of wet food or broth may be appropriate. Be mindful of the salt content. Animals with conditions such as chronic kidney disease may benefit from supplementary hydration, for example fluids administered under the skin (animal owners can be taught to do this at home by their veterinarian), or, if unwell, a few days in hospital on a drip.


Animals should be fed a balanced, appropriate diet. Some senior pets are on prescription diets. It is important to seek advice from your veterinarian about the most appropriate diet. Changes in appetite should be discussed with your veterinarian.

In some cases (such as hyperthyroidism in cats), the appetite may increase. Animals with conditions that cause nausea may be off their food. This may be able to be addressed by investigating and treating the underlying problem (such as a urinary tract infection) or with anti-nausea medication.


Being soiled or dirty is a source of discomfort and potential infection. Senior pets may need assistance keeping their coat clean and dry. Incontinence should be investigated by your veterinarian, as it can be successfully treated in many cases.

Animals on medication should receive regular check ups.

  • Dr Anne Quain is a lecturer at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science and a practising veterinarian.