February 6, 2023

General Medical Issues Wellness & Prevention

5 Medical Conditions to Watch for in Mature Pets

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM

mature pets senior dog


Being proactive in your pet’s care is a vital part of having an animal as part of the family. This means monitoring your pet for changes and providing preventative veterinary care. Sometimes people forget that their mature pets need the same amount of care and prevention that puppies and kittens do.

We all know that aging is not a disease. Unfortunately, as pets (and people) get older, certain diseases become more common. Some illnesses can be treated and managed; others may be more serious and require ongoing care and maintenance. Today, we will discuss some of the more common diseases we see with our mature pets.


Cataracts are a condition that affects the eye that causes cloudiness in the lens of the eye. This cloudiness causes changes in their vision. While we can’t ask our pets what having cataracts is like, people with cataracts typically describe it as having shadowed vision or blurry vision.

In stages of advanced or complete cataracts, your pet will experience complete vision loss. Because of this, some pets may be more reactive or fearful of quick or sudden motions, especially near their faces. Reduce their anxiety by being careful, moving slowly, and talking to them before touching them, particularly by the face.

Animals do tend to adapt to cataract changes and vision loss much better than humans, as their main sense is their sense of smell and not vision. Surgical options for cataracts are available from animal ophthalmologists (animal eye specialists).

Heart Disease

The most common sign of heart disease in your pet is coughing, particularly when laying down or at night. Your pet may have a decreased activity level, although that may be hard to correlate to heart disease as older pets have decreased activity levels anyways.

For dogs, the most common reason for heart disease to develop is that the valves don’t close all the way. Think of these valves as doors in the heart. When they don’t close completely, some blood goes forward and some goes back out through the open “door”. When this happens, the veterinarian can hear what is referred to as a heart murmur.

mature pets dog with gray muzzle


Continued forward and backward flow of blood in the heart causes strain to the heart muscle. The muscle stretches, making it more difficult for the heart to correctly beat and pump blood. When enough of the heart muscle is stretched too thin, the heart cannot beat effectively and it fails.

If your veterinarian hears a heart murmur or is worried about heart issues, she will recommend some tests to evaluate changes in heart size or the lungs. Some of these tests may include x-rays and bloodwork to determine how much the heart muscle has stretched. Your veterinarian may also recommend supplements or medications to help make the heart work more effectively and with less stress.

We may not be able to “cure” a heart problem, but we can support the heart and help to slow down heart disease progression.

Dental Disease

For some pets, dental disease can be easy to spot. Your pet may have stinky-smelling breath and gross-looking teeth. However, not all pets show obvious signs of dental disease.

Other symptoms include red, inflamed gums (gingivitis), loose teeth, or oral abscesses. Your veterinarian looks for all these things during your pet’s physical exam. In some cases, your pet may require anesthesia so the vet can clean the tartar and remove severely affected teeth. Other times, you may be able to treat your pet with at-home dental supplements or treatments.

We recommend daily dental care not just for mature pets, but for pets of all ages. You can brush your pet’s teeth with pet-friendly toothpaste, dental treats, or dental supplements. By providing preventive dental care, you can reduce your pet’s chances of dental disease and boost his overall oral wellness.

Cancer (Neoplasia)

The big “C” word can often bring lots of stress and anxiety to a lot of people. Cancer can affect any pet of any age, but we do tend to see an increase in cancer risk with mature pets. In some types of cancer, we can see a visible swelling or lump on the outside of the body. Other cancers are inside the body and may be more difficult to be able to detect.

Monitor your mature pets for lumps. Note changes in the following:

  • how the lump feels (was soft, now is hard)
  • how fast the lump is growing
  • whether or not there is a discharge
  • whether or not it’s painful to your pet when you touch it

If your pet has any new or concerning lumps, talk with your veterinarian to see if any further treatment may be needed.


mature pets black and white cat


You may be all too familiar with the sore joints and stiffness that come with arthritis. This condition is common in both people and pets. Arthritis is when there is swelling, inflammation, and pain in one or more joints.

Over time and with repeated use of the joints, cartilage pads become worn and irritate the joint. This can cause boney changes in the joint that add to the irritation and discomfort.

While there is not necessarily a “cure” for arthritis, there are many things that you and your vet can do to help your pet. Talk to your veterinarian about joint supplements, pain medications, injections, laser therapy, and any other treatments that may be available.

Aging is a normal part of your pet’s life. Knowing what to watch for and being prepared to care for mature pets can help to make aging less stressful. Talk to your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns regarding your mature pet. We can all work to ensure that your pet’s “golden years” are the best that they can be!

Dr. Heintz and her dog, MimiDr. Heintz is a small and exotic animal veterinarian at Countrycare Animal Complex in Green Bay, WI. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. Her passion is helping all animals, whether furry, scaly, or feathered, lead long and healthy lives.