So many of our pets are living longer lives: 17 years old is the new 12. And living 20 years is not out of the question, especially for cats.
As they age, you may notice physical changes that may be just normal signs of aging that are normal and that you can accept without worrying about the need to ‘fix’ them. Then, there are some that can be helped by you, the owner. And, of course, some that could go either way, depending on the cause of the change.
Let’s start with the more common: Lumps and bumps often arise as pets get older. There are three very common types and thankfully, you rarely need to do anything about them. One is the lipoma: globs of fat underneath the skin, essentially tumors made up of fat. They can be underneath planes of connective tissue, too, creating a firmer bump than the ‘egg yolk’-shaped bumps subcutaneously. Almost all are benign, and rarely convert to a disagreeable form.
Another common lump is the sebaceous adenoma, or oil glands gone wild. Usually small bumpy lumps on the surface of the skin, they may ooze whitish, oily stuff that quickly gets dark as it dries and attracts dirt. Sometimes they may crack and form a scab on top. Most of these can be ignored, as well. Usually they are surgically removed at the owner’s request or because the dog or cat won’t leave them alone.
Then there are the ‘glorified warts,’ random bumps and ‘skin tags’ that just sit there and do nothing. Don’t take my word for it, though, let your veterinarian tell you it is OK not to worry about a particular bump.
I get asked all the time about hairless areas on dogs’ elbows or on the heels of cats. It’s just wear and tear. Over time, certain pressure points wear the hair off, just like the tread of your tires. Dogs’ elbows will become calloused and may change the color of that patch of skin. Unless they are swollen, cracked, bleeding, or become ‘detached’ from the elbow, it is a normal aging event. I’ve even seen a few Dobermans with identical symmetrical bald spots on their bum, where the pelvic bones hit the ground as they sit!
Speaking of changes in skin color, getting darker pigment spots isn’t just reserved for the two-legged crowd. Pets often will get more hyper-pigmentation as they age. You’ll see black spots on the gums and tongue sometimes, or just more and bigger freckles on the belly. Hyper-pigmentation that comes on gradually and without concurrent symptomology can be ignored for the most part.
Similar to skin changes, many people marvel at how fast their older pets’ nails grow. Cats, especially, can crank out nails at quite a clip when they round 14. Be more observant so that you get them to whomever cuts their nails more often.
Sometimes older pets shake. They just do. I have no idea why, but in the absence of any plausible medical explanation, it may just be that that is how it is going to be from now on. I’m not saying not to look into it, but be ready for the possibility of a non-diagnosis.
One of the most common and consistent aging changes that concerns pet owners is the pet’s eyes changing color. Not the color change from brown to blue, but that vague, hazy appearance that you’re not quite sure what changed in there. That blue-ing of your pet’s pupils. The whitish tinge to the center black part of the eyes. That is called nuclear sclerosis. Nuclear stands for the lens of the eye and sclerosis means hardening. As your dog or cat gets older, the concentric circles of the lens become harder and more compact. It is not cataracts and there is little you can do to prevent it or fix it. Most pets still see just fine with it.
Aging changes all of our pets in different manners and those are just some of the most common that worry owners. Let your vet see what concerns you and hopefully, he/she will tell you, it’s no big deal. Saves money, too!