How Does a Vet Tech Care for a Senior Dog or Cat?

Published on February 14, 2020 by arothstein

Senior dog and senior citizens

Young or old, all pets deserve great care. This is no truer in the case of a senior dog or cat, who needs extra TLC in their veterinary appointments. Earning a degree to work as a vet tech is an excellent opportunity for anyone that wants to care for animals and learn about advances in veterinary technology.

It takes a special person to be a vet tech. Not only are you caring for animals, but you must also understand how their needs change throughout their life cycle.

Caring for a Senior Dog or Cat

One of the essential attributes of a vet tech is to educate pet owners about how to provide their cats and dogs with long, happy lives. A senior dog or cat has special needs to keep them healthy and comfortable. Throughout the course of their lives, a pet’s needs change. Whether it is nutrition, medication or behavior, there are many reasons why vet techs work with pet owners.

What Makes A Pet A Senior?

Veterinarians and vet techs consider dogs to be seniors at about seven years old. In contrast, most pet parents think it’s between seven and nine years old. Giant breeds are considered seniors when they’re five years old.

Senior Pets May Depend on Breed

Most pet owners consider small and medium breeds to be seniors at about eleven years old, while pet owners think giant breeds are seniors when they reach the age of nine. Vet techs can help dog owners understand when their dog is considered to be a senior by educating them as their pet ages.

Senior Cats

When it comes to the senior status of cats, it’s a little more straightforward. Most veterinarians consider cats to be seniors when they reach the age of nine, while cat owners believe the age is about eleven. It’s best to listen to your veterinarian when discussing an senior cat and the best way to care for him or her.

How to Care for Senior Pets

The good news for dog and cat owners is the advances in veterinary technology. With these advances our pets are living longer. Larger dogs age faster than smaller breeds. For example, a Great Dane is a senior when it reaches six or seven years old, while a Chihuahua is still considered to be middle age.

Most importantly, the best way to keep pets healthy is to schedule regular visits with a veterinarian. Signs that something isn’t right can be easy to miss. A veterinarian can do an examination and blood tests to determine if something needs attention. For this reason, veterinarians recommend that senior pets have a wellness exam every six months.


Senior dogs and cats don’t get as much physical activity as younger pets do. Just like every other pet, senior dogs and cats must receive proper nutrition. To make sure a pet is getting the necessary nutrients, the diet can consist of foods lower in calories but full of all the nutrients older pets need. Veterinarians may recommend specific foods for pets that have issues with mobility, heart or kidney disease, or obesity problems. These special diets can keep an older pet healthier.

Senior Dog Nutrition

First of all, a senior dog’s needs change over time. A senior dog needs a diet that’s lower in fat, calories, and protein. Food for older dogs should have a higher fiber content than food for younger, more active dogs. When a dog begins to age, their kidneys don’t work as effectively as they did when they were younger. Grain-free foods are an excellent option for older dogs. Eliminating grains can help prevent excess weight gain and help to prevent diseases like diabetes.

Senior Cat Nutrition

Cats have different nutritional needs as they age to keep them from gaining too much weight. A cat can gain an extra pound in a year from getting just a few more calories a day than they should. For that reason, using portion controls can help to keep older cats from gaining excess weight. The amount of food the cat will consume in one day can be measured and fed twice rather than all at once. Cats can also develop a dental disease like dogs, so switching to a softer, canned food may make it easier for an older cat to eat.


Exercise can keep an senior dog or cat from gaining too much weight and can also keep them mobile. Dogs like to go on walks, but when a dog is older, walks should be limited to 10 or 15 minutes. Dogs will try to keep up with their owners. Because of this if an older dog seems tired, keep the walk short.

A lot of dogs love frolicking in the water. A swimming pool can be used with a swim vest for an older dog, letting them paddle around in the pool. The swim vest helps to keep a dog buoyant in the water. Swimming is low impact and excellent for keeping joints and muscles healthy.

Cats like to lounge around and observe what’s going on around them, but they need exercise too. Interactive toys like a robotic mouse or a laser pointer provide physical and mental stimulation for an older cat. Some cats like to play in cat tunnels, which are another excellent option for keeping a cat mobile.

Vitamins and Supplements

Some of the most common health problems of older dogs and cats are:

In one respect, animals are like humans. When they begin to age, their organs don’t work as productively as they did when they were younger. The aging process, pollutants in the environment, and an inferior diet are all contributing factors.

Senior dogs and cats need vitamins and minerals to stay healthy as they age. However, individual care for each pet is essential. Pet owners should talk to their veterinarian to find out if an older cat or dog needs vitamins or supplements in addition to his or her food content.

Popular Supplements for Senior Dogs and Cats

Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate are popular supplements that can be used for senior dogs and cats. These supplements contain ingredients that have an anti-inflammatory effect that help with the pain associated with arthritis. The products that contain ingredients from cartilage can help with cartilage in the joints that are damaged.

Essential Fatty Acids like Omega-3 and Omega-6 are something that dogs and cats’ bodies can’t produce. These fatty acids must be in a pet’s food or supplements. Essential fatty acids support the healthy function of the brain, can add shine to a pet’s coat, improve the condition of the skin, strengthen the immune system, and reduce inflammation.

Sleep Habits

Pet’s sleep habits change as they age. Signs of aging in dogs may appear to be more subtle than in humans. They may have more trouble moving around, and their muzzle may start to turn grey. It’s normal for a senior dog to sleep between 16 and 18 hours each day. However, the dog may not be in deep sleep the entire time, but just resting.

If a dog is sleeping excessively, it could be a sign of a medical issue, including hypothyroidism, which can adversely affect a lot of systems in the body, including the heart. However, the condition can be managed with medication.

It’s normal for cats to sleep as much as 20 hours each day as they age. Senior cats get tired more quickly, so play sessions should be shorter. However, an older cat still needs attention during waking hours. It’s essential to respect the cat’s boundaries and provide a safe, comfortable place to sleep in a quiet spot.

Increased Frequency of Vet Visits

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends that senior dogs and cats have semi-annual wellness examinations. If a dog or cat has any signs of illness, a veterinarian can detect and treat it earlier. Wellness exams for senior pets are similar to the annual exams for younger pets but more in-depth.

Veterinarians may recommend dental cleaning and blood work to detect any problems before they become serious. A senior dog or cat’s weight will be checked, and the veterinarian may recommend a change in diet for digestive issues or to keep a pet from gaining too much weight.

If a senior dog or cat has mobility issues or changes in their interaction, the veterinarian may prescribe medication and discuss ways to keep the pet mentally alert and active. Lifestyle changes like changing where a pet sleeps to avoid stairs and spending more time indoors may be recommended.

Changes in behavior are often the first indication that an older dog or cat needs to be seen by a veterinarian. A pet owner is most familiar with their pet’s routine and can tell when something is wrong. If an older pet has any changes in behavior, an appointment with a veterinarian should be scheduled.

Did learning about caring for older cats and dogs interest you? Ready to start a program to become a veterinary technician? With an Associate Degree in Veterinary Technology, you’ll gain the knowledge and skills you need to start an entry-level career as a veterinary technician. Broadview University has been part of the community for more than 40 years, so we’ve developed connections that can help move your career forward. After completing our accredited degree program, you’ll be eligible to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). Passing the VTNE allows you to become a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT), a designation that will give you a competitive advantage when you enter the job market.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a veterinary technician and working in veterinary technology.

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