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Aging Pet Series - Senses

You asked, we answered! We’re continuing our #VirbacVetTalk aging pet series with different topics each month.

During today’s Q&A, learn more about changing senses your pet might be experiencing with Dr. Craig Parks MS, DVM, Vice President, Research & Development at Virbac Corporation.

One of the many benefits of today’s high-quality veterinary medicine is that our pets are living longer – in the same way as humans’ life expectancy is longer. On average, we are expected to live as much as 10 years longer than even our parents. Unfortunately, one of the things that accompanies this longevity (for both us and our pets) is the increasing likelihood that we will experience certain diseases and maladies commonly associated with aging. Much like you and I, as our pets age they seem to lose some of their awareness and senses. Hearing, eyesight, taste and smell are just some of the senses that likely become less sensitive with age. Dogs and cats are much more sensitive to and dependent upon these multiple sensory inputs from their world. You may become aware of decreasing sensitivities as they affect behaviors. Here are a few questions/thoughts you have had concerning your aging pet and their senses.

Q1 – I think my dog may not be seeing/hearing as well as she/he once did.

Animals are aware of their surroundings mainly via sound, sight, smell and vibrations. These senses begin to become less acute with age. Declining eyesight and hearing, as in humans, is common with age. Often a dog or cat can appear confused because it is aware of a sound (calling its name), but has trouble locating where the sound is coming from. Movement is much easier for your pet to see – but it may not recognize whether you are waving or if the wind is blowing a plant. 

Q2 – My dog doesn’t seem to be eating as much and as enthusiastically has he/she used to.

Taste is another of those senses that can become dull with age, as taste buds become less sensitive.  Food simply may not be as pleasing as it once was and as a result, your pet may have less interest in food. Generally, animals depend more on their sense of smell, thus as their sense of smell decreases, food may not be as appealing. Introducing some variety may help, but as always, watching the weight control is important. Experiment to see what kinds of things your dog likes. Also, keep in mind that dogs and cats should not be fed certain things no matter how much they like them (like chocolate!).

Q3 – My dog seems to have more difficulty waking up as he/she ages.

Sounds and vibrations generally rouse a sleeping pet. If hearing is declining and footsteps don’t create enough vibrations to be detected, then they may not awaken as readily. One should be cautious of abruptly waking a sleeping dog or cat, as startled, they could react unexpectedly.

Q4 – Why would my older dog bark at something for no apparent reason?

As visual acuity declines, your pet may see shapes and shadows, but not be able to discern exactly what they are looking at. Likewise, as hearing declines, sounds become muffled and they may have more trouble identifying the source of the sound. An innate response is to bark, creating an alert to something unknown.

Older pets can bring just as much joy and companionship to our lives as puppies and kittens. Getting older is something to which we all must adapt. Before attributing signs to “just getting old,” be sure to have your pet evaluated by your veterinarian, especially if he or she is exhibiting signs of illness.