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PetPourri: The Golden (Retriever) Years – A Care Guide for Elderly Pets

By Lisha Ross

Just like humans, our beloved pets suffer from the aches, diminished senses and other issues that inevitably come with growing old. And, like humans, elderly pets require certain lifestyle changes and TLC to help them cope. Nothing if not adaptable, your pet will probably take to aging more readily than most people, but since there is no AARP for advice and help, it’s your job as a loving pet owner to observe changes in behavior, determine if a symptom is problematic, and make the adjustments necessary to ensure your pet’s golden years are as safe and comfortable as possible.


You’re How Old?

 Is your pet eligible for the senior discount? Aging depends on breed type and the care they received in their youth, so only you and your vet will know if your pet is in need of special care. Large dog breeds like Great Danes tend to age faster and are considered “seniors” at age six or seven, whereas small dogs like poodles don’t mature until their teen years. Cats are usually considered elderly around 10-12 years.

In general, after the age of seven it’s important that your pet visits the vet annually, especially if they’re slowing down, sleeping more often, have cloudy or bluish eyes or loss of muscle mass.  More serious symptoms, including arthritis, incontinence, lumps or masses, heart disease and organ failure, and sight or hearing loss, may require diagnosis, medication and possibly surgery–that is for your vet to decide. Whatever issues your aging pet is experiencing, a few changes at home can help Fido and Biggles get around just fine.

I’m Sorry, What?

Reduced hearing and sight are common in elderly pets. While the adjustment phase may be frustrating for the pet and heartbreaking to watch, animals generally adapt quickly to the loss, relying on their keen sense of smell and touch to guide them in the right direction; you simply need to set the stage for a speedy comeback.

Hearing Loss

The moment you identify hearing loss in your pet, i.e. Fido stops responding to your calls or the sound of his favorite squeaky toy, it’s time to take action. Dogs who respond well to verbal commands can quickly learn hand signals with proper training. Check out to learn how “good dog” can be replaced with a thumbs-up, and “sit” can be replaced with a palm to the floor gesture. Hand signal training a pet after it has completely lost its hearing is more challenging, although not impossible with patience. It’s important to remember, though, that hand signals are useless if the animal can’t see you. They also can’t hear a car horn or an aggressive barking dog. That’s why it’s imperative to keep a deaf pet on a leash and in close proximity when outside of the house.

Sight Loss

Indications of blindness include a cloudy film over the eyes, failure to notice movement if not accompanied by sound, or bumping into things. (A grayish-blue haze over the eye is common in elderly pets, but is not always indicative of sight loss.) You should consult a veterinary ophthalmologist if you notice any of these conditions, as certain treatments can keep a cataract at bay. For blind animals or those that are losing their sight, the first and most obvious rule is not to move around furniture, their bed or food dish. If you do move big furniture, walk the animal around the house on a leash a few times, allowing it to brush up against the large pieces before letting it run free. A few tricks to blind-proof your home include:

  • Cushion corners and other surfaces that could injure your pet.


  • Use different oil-based scents, like pine, cedar or lavender, to mark the location of beds, eating areas, wall corners, the bottom edges of large furniture, etc., or create a path from, say, the doggy door to the dog run. Avoid citrus for cats; they don’t like it.


  • Create paths around the house with textured carpet or runners. Use different textures to mark different paths; for example, lay a low pile rug from the bed to the back door and a plastic runner from the bed to the eating area.


  • Put bells or jingling tags on other pets so they can guide your ailing mutt. You may also want to put a bell on your own shoe so your pet knows when you’re nearby.


  • If possible, teach your pet cues such as “easy” to use when he approaches something in his path or “step up” when he comes to a stair or curb.


More items, from noisy toys to seat belt harnesses and “halo” collars, can be found at With these items in place, allow your pet to move about and adapt to his new world without interfering constantly. Giving in to pity and carrying your pet to different spots in the house can result in further disorientation and should be avoided. It’s especially dangerous to lift an animal onto a sofa or kitty tree landing, as they can easily have a nasty spill.

The Double Whammy

Animals that go deaf and blind need extra special care; hand signals and bells will be obsolete, and your pet will likely demand more personal attention due to anxiety. To ease deaf-blind pet woes, make sure they have a safe retreat and know how to get there. Use baby gates to keep them confined to areas they are most familiar with. They must also be supervised closely or kept on a leash when exploring the outdoors, especially by pools or drop offs. Provide affection often, but again, avoid the temptation to overly baby deaf-blind pets. In a well-proofed home, they will eventually learn how to get along just fine. 

Arthritis and Stiff Joints

If your pet seems to be lame after exercise, appears stiff when getting up, walks more slowly, is reluctant to jump or climb stairs, has difficulty squatting or experiences pain when touched on his back or hip, he may be suffering from arthritis. In all cases, you should consult your vet, who may prescribe pain or anti-inflammatory medication.

With or without medicine, you can make your pal’s life easier with raised eating platforms, ramps and steps, nonskid mats and booties, warming beds with soft pillows, and sweaters for damp days, all readily available at your local pet store. ComfortLift Carrier slings and harnesses ( are also helpful in lifting your pet and taking strain off their bodies as they walk. Light exercise and short walks are good for arthritic animals, but refrain from forcing them to move faster than they seem comfortable with. Gentle animal massage can also be effective in easing arthritic pain. You can learn the basics on, or if you really want to show how much you care, UNLV offers certification courses in animal massage. 


Biggles is well-trained and hasn’t had an accident since he was a pup. Why now? Well, incontinence just happens. Refrain from punishing your pet, using diapers and disposable puppy pads to avoid messes instead. Make sure to trim their hair in areas that tend to get soiled, and consult your vet about treatment options.


Aging is a natural, unstoppable process, but you can make it easier on the little guys. No matter the symptom, your aim is to give your pet the same lifestyle you’d like in your older years; calm, relaxed and as healthy as possible. It’s just a tiny gift you can give back to the ones who’ve given you so much unconditional love.

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