Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine, better pet nutrition, and more educated pet owners, there has been a dramatic increase in the lifespan of our cats and dogs. In today’s world, it’s not uncommon for medium- and even large-sized dogs to reach their teens or for cats to live 20 or more years. While these miracles of science are granting us more time with our four-legged family members, pet longevity can be a double-edged sword.

Cats and dogs who would have died suddenly in previous years are now more likely to develop a chronic disease that creeps slowly into their lives and changes a once healthy pet into one who has to rely on your help in order to survive. Even cancer is not an immediate death sentence.

I faced this situation when my dog, Sophie, was stricken with a progressive paralysis caused by an undiagnosed illness. The paralysis took away her ability to run, walk, and, later, stand or even sit upright. Her condition changed almost every aspect of the way my family lived for the next 5 years. We had to learn how to express her bladder and the proper way to lift and move her. We became experts about products for handicapped pets, doggie wheelchairs, carts, and more. We had to create a new “normal” way of life.

Most cats and dogs won’t become paralyzed, but there are many other common conditions that older pets and their owners are likely to encounter. Each condition requires a lifestyle change for the animal and his or her family, which may include daily injections, physical therapy, medications, special equipment, and more. It is wise for pet owners to think ahead about how they might handle these challenges and to consider how much time they can commit to being the caregiver of a special needs pet.

The facts
Every year, Banfield Pet Hospital publishes the State of Pet Health™ Report, which analyzes the medical data of companion animals in the U.S. The 2014 report looked at the health records of 2.3 million dogs and 470,000 cats.

Below is a list of the most common special needs conditions found in geriatric pets (cases per 10,000 patients):

  • Arthritis and hip dysplasia – 273 dogs and 58 cats
  • Diabetes – 26 dogs and 94 cats
  • Endocrine disorders (Cushing ’s disease or hypothyroidism) – 65 dogs and 132 cats
  • Heart disease – 32 dogs and 15 cats
  • Kidney disease – 32 dogs and 213 cats
  • Dental disease – 68 dogs and 61 cats
  • Overweight & obesity – 21 dogs and 23 cats  

Other common chronic conditions include:

  • Blindness or deafness
  • Spinal cord and disc disease
  • Incontinence
  • Senility
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, colitis


For more details about pet longevity and chronic health issues, read the entire Banfield Pet Hospital State of Pet Heath™ Report.

Common health conditions in senior dogs

Common health conditions in senior cats


Sharon Seltzer is an animal writer who founded the website, Lessons From A Paralyzed Dog, as a tribute to her dog, Sophie, who was paralyzed for 5 years.

Comments (1) -

LymanUnited States
7/8/2014 3:46:41 PM #

Great job and article, Sharon. Viewed while at Vally Club pool in Sun Valley, I'D. Watching my grand kids who can't get out of the water

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