The changing needs of senior pets

Just like us, as pets grow older their needs change, and a lot of people are unaware of what they can do at home to meet these needs. In this article, we will be looking at a few of the needs of cats, dogs and rabbits as they age.


Senior cats may have a reduced appetite so feeding them two large meals per day may not work for them like it used to, you can try feeding them four or five small meals to encourage them. Some cats also like their food to be warmed up a bit. Some cats may find it hard to bend down to eat and drink, so try raising their food bowls.

Many cats will become less flexible as they age so it is not as easy for them to groom themselves. You can help by brushing your cat regularly to prevent matting and cleaning their fur if they get dirty. It also becomes more difficult to shed their nails since they thicken so these can be clipped at home or by a veterinary nurse if you are unhappy doing it yourself.

Cats love to hide and climb and this doesn’t change as they get older, they just might find it a bit more difficult to get up high. You can provide ramps to make it easier for your cat to climb up to their hiding places. Cats also lose their fat and muscle as they get older so they get cold more easily, they will benefit from warm bedding, a favourite spot is usually in a hammock above the radiator.


Geriatric dogs may feel less need for physical exercise or may tire more quickly; walking them more frequently for a shorter time is beneficial; they still need mental stimulation however so will still enjoy playing with toys and puzzle feeders.

Dogs might find it difficult to get up from very soft beds, so getting a bed that is more supportive will help them. If they like to lay on hard floors then they might develop pressure sores, so check their elbows and back legs for any wounds and encourage them to lay somewhere soft.

Some older dogs may also develop hearing or vision problems so try to avoid startling them with loud noises or sneaking up on them. Be patient if they seem to be ignoring you, they may just not be able to hear you so well.


Elderly rabbits, if housed outside, may find it more difficult to get up and down a two storey hutch so you may have to rethink their accommodation. They may also develop pressure sores over their joints if their bedding is not soft enough. Indoor rabbits may find it more challenging to navigate slippery flooring so may benefit from non-slip mats to get about. They may also find it more difficult to use high sided litter trays so try sourcing something that is low.

Since they are not so active, spending time digging, older rabbits may find it hard to wear down their claws and they may become overgrown, if you are uncomfortable clipping them yourself you can speak to the nurses at the veterinary centre and they can help you.

In order to keep your rabbit at their optimum health it is important to monitor their weight. Senior rabbits often need more food to keep their weight up but conversely usually are less active so need less food. By being aware of if your rabbit is losing or gaining weight you can adjust their food to keep it steady.

Keeping these needs in mind allow us to help our pets grow old gracefully. However, this is by no means an exhaustive list and the nurses at the Wheelhouse are able to give you advice in their free clinics. If you are concerned about your pet’s health please seek advice from a vet, it is recommended for an older pet to see the vet every six months for check-ups. To book an appointment please call 01494 782001.