What Does A Vet Tech Do?

It’s Veterinary Technician Appreciation Week! Here at ZippiVet, we don’t know what we’d do without our wonderful, amazing, indispensable Vet Techs. You couldn’t get the high quality, affordable pet care ZippiVet provides Austin without them. And most importantly, we wouldn’t be able to give your pets the care they deserve without our Vet Techs. They. Are. The. Best.

But even though your pets know what our Vet Techs do, do you? Here’s a breakdown:

They’re Your Pet’s Nurse, Pretty Much

First and foremost, that’s really what a Vet Tech is: a skilled veterinary medical professional. Our Vet Techs are responsible for drawing blood, assisting with surgery, sterilizing equipment, taking stool and urine samples, cleaning and wrapping cuts, administering medicine, checking vitals, lab work, and more. Our ZippiVet Vet Techs are the best at what they do, and we (and you and your pets) are super lucky to have them. ZippiVet’s affordable vet care wouldn’t be nearly as good without them.

They’re The First Friendly Face Your Pet Sees At ZippiVet!

First impressions are important. We don’t want your sweet little girl/guy to be scared of the vet, so we make sure they (and you) are always greeted by a friendly, smiling face. And they are, because who isn’t excited to see a pup or a kitty? Our ZippiVet Vet Techs always are! Nobody loves animals as much as they do. (Trust us, you have to really love animals to make their stool samples a regular part of your life.) A ZippiVet Vet Tech is usually the first person you’ll see when you walk into ZippiVet. And they’re the first person who’ll handle your dog or cat when you bring them in.

They Tell You How Your Pet Is Doing

Everyone in Austin likes to talk about their pets. We do too! We think communication is a hugely important part of great affordable pet care, and when you have an appointment a ZippiVet veterinarian will be there to answer your questions and clearly explain how your dog or cat is doing. And we want you to be able to speak with a ZippiVet veterinarian as much as you need. But ZippiVet vets are busy! We have lots of patients to look after, so most times, when we call to update you on your pet’s test results, to book a followup appointment, refill prescriptions, etc., you’ll be speaking with one of our wonderful, knowledgeable Vet Techs. And feel free to ask them whatever you need too! We couldn’t provide kick-ass (just kidding, we’d never kick a donkey, we love animals, remember?) affordable vet care to Austin if every one of our staff wasn’t passionate and knowledgeable about your animals.

So there ya go. What do Vet Techs do? A little bit of everything, really. And what would we do without our Vet Techs? Yikes. We just don’t know.

If you’re looking for affordable pet care in Austin book an appointment for your dog or cat at one of ZippiVet’s three Austin locations today!

Foods You Didn’t Know Dogs Can’t Eat

There are some surprising foods dogs can't eat.

There are some surprising foods dogs can’t eat.

Dogs are beggars. Their big, wet, innocent eyes and supernaturally sweet demeanors make them pretty much impossible to deny. They want to hop up in bed with us? Fine, come on up. They don’t want us to leave the house? Okay, okay we won’t go out. We don’t need friends anyway. We have you, doggo! Honestly if they wanted money we’d give them cash. Mostly though, our dogs want food. All the time. And if it weren’t for the budgetary constraints we’d probably be serving up a bowl of medium-rare filet mignon every night to an animal that would just as happily eat an old hot dog out of the trash. Because love. But we have to show self-control for the sake of the pups we love so irrationally, yet justifiably. Because no matter how much you and I want to treat them, it’s more important to keep your dog healthy. There are foods that, no matter how sadly your good boy is looking up at you, you shouldn’t reach under the table and feed him. These are some of those foods dogs can’t eat.

1. Avocados

At this point, who doesn’t love avocados? There’s a decent chance that even people who don’t love them lie and say they do just to fit in. Your dog loves them too. Because dogs love anything even remotely edible. Unfortunately, when you bring the pup to brunch they can’t be as cool as you are and have a piece of your avocado toast. For dogs, avocados can cause upset stomach, breathing trouble, and fluid buildup in the chest. They’re also a choking hazard. So can a dog eat avocados? No.

2. Almonds

Almonds are a heart healthy snack and a great source of protein — for you. For your dog, though, they’re hard to digest and thus a source of stomach pain. Almonds can also cause pancreatitis and, like avocados, can be a choking hazard. Keep the decorative bowl of nuts above the table. Can a dog eat almonds? No.

3. Alcohol

It probably seems like a funny party trick to give your dog a beer (or stronger) but DO NOT DO THAT. Alcohol has the same effect on a dog’s brain and liver that it does on a human’s. Except a dog’s brain is roughly equivalent to that of a two year old child’s, and chances are your dog weighs less than 100 pounds, which means it’s like you’re giving alcohol to a very large toddler. That’s super not okay. Can a dog drink alcohol? NO.

4. Grapes

“Fruit is healthy, so this is probably cool,” you think to yourself as you toss your dog a grape, somehow forgetting that you are a different species than your dog-shaped dog. While some fruits are fine for dogs to eat, grapes (and raisins) can lead to kidney failure, and cause vomiting and sluggishness. Can you feed your dog grapes? No.

5. Bacon

Yes, we know, this sounds like fake news. Bacon is meat. Dogs love meat. There’s even an extremely popular brand of dog snack whose premise and advertising is predicated around a canine’s inherent love of bacon. We must be liars. But yeah, crazy story, bacon isn’t good for a dog to eat. Bacon is a fatty cut of meat, and eating it can lead to pancreatitis, digestion problems, and trouble absorbing nutrients. If the pup wants some meat, go with something leaner. Can a dog eat bacon? No more than a teeny, tiny piece every now and then. (Even we can’t fully advocate against spoiling your pup a little — BUT ONLY A LITTLE!)

Keep your pet healthy and happy and book a checkup at ZippiVet today! We’re open seven days a week, and during evenings.

Treats or Treatments? Do Dentastix Work?

Many dog owners accept stinky breath as a matter of course. Especially if your dog is getting older, you may think that increasingly bad breath is simply a normal consequence of aging.  When it comes to a dog’s dental health, there are a lot of factors at play. In addition to age, the breed of your dog will also affect their oral hygiene. Certain breeds of smaller dogs have a more crowded mouth, which creates additional difficulties for cleaning.

In a half hearted attempt to tame the funk, many dog owners turn to Dentastix. They claim to clean your dog’s teeth and freshen their breath, but do Dentastix actually work? Dentastix, and similar products, can certainly help your dog’s dental hygiene. But how do you know if Dentastix are working? You need to pay attention to how long it takes your dog to eat them. If the doggo takes his or her time to chow on the treat, that means they’re getting the most out of it and that it’s cleaning their teeth properly. If they wolf (*rim shot*) the Dentastix down like some table scraps, however, then they aren’t getting any benefit from the treat and they could end up looking like this pooch:


Dentastix and other types of dental treats can be helpful but should only serve as supplements to visiting the vet for a proper teeth cleaning and checkup. It’s smart to check with a specialist to find out what specific cleaning methods are most beneficial for your dog. At ZippiVet, your dog can get an affordable, quick, high-quality teeth cleaning that will not only keep your dog’s breath fresh but preserve their oral hygiene, which makes for a happier (and more fragrant) companion.

Pet Allergies: Is Your Dog Allergic To You?

It’s unfortunate that many people aren’t able to experience the camaraderie and companionship that comes with having a furry friend due to dog and cat allergies. For those who don’t have pet allergies and get to enjoy life with a furry friend, you can not forget about the possibility of your pet having allergies that need to be dealt with.

However great you are at being a pet-parent, it’s hard to tell if your pet has an allergy or if they are just being a little more weird than normal. (Dog allergy symptoms can range very common/subtle symptoms such as sneezing, vomiting, diarrhea, or coughing. The more peculiar signs your dog might have an allergy are snoring, chewing their paws, or increased scratching. Cat allergy symptoms are just as tricky to pick up on.) Some things you should be aware of that may be triggering your pet’s allergies are the outdoors; trees, grass, and pollens. As the seasons change and our allergies start to act-up your pet might start to sneeze a little more than usual. If your cat ventures into the wilderness of your backyard after spending most of their time napping inside, they might come back inside with some cat allergy symptoms. Dog food allergies are important to watch out for when switching between new dog foods or giving them the coveted scrap of human food.

The most important thing you can do when trying to treat your pet’s allergies is to be vigilant. If you recognize that your pet has any of these symptoms don’t ignore them. As subtle as many of these symptoms can be, it is important to take note of what may be causing them. If the symptoms persist and your furry-friend isn’t doing well, you need to take them to a vet as quickly as you can. ZippiVet is the perfect place to take your pet when they may be experiencing allergies, whether it may be your dog’s skin allergies or your cat’s food allergy. Open 7 days a week with no long waits or extra hassle, ZippiVet gets to see your pet quickly and get them the allergy treatment and medicine they need.

Book your first appointment with ZippiVet today!

An Adoption Success Story for a Puppy in Need

ZV adopted puppy cropped

Austin’s population is exploding, and so is our pet population. As we approach Austin’s sixth year as the largest No-Kill City in the nation, we are thankful for everyone that works tirelessly to help our animal friends. We also realize that without support from the community, organizations like Austin Pets Alive and Austin Animal Center would be tasked with the impossible.

You’ve probably noticed that ZippiVet is a proud supporter of Austin Pets Alive, but did you know that in 2017 ZippiVet decided to help Austin Animal Center out by donating $5,000 worth of veterinary dental services per month? This means that a dog or cat that might never get adopted because of severe dental disease now has a chance at a happy, healthy, and pain-free life.

Our most recent patient success story is Sheena. Sheena’s owner passed away and Sheena was found on her owner’s lap. Terrified and heartbroken, she was taken to Austin Animal Center for her chance to find a forever family.

Sheena had quite the time making a positive impression on prospective parents due to her shy and apprehensive nature. An exceptional AAC Volunteer swooped in and decided to foster Sheena until a permanent home could be found. After working with Sheena to bolster her confidence around strangers, there was only one thing holding Sheena back: horrific dental disease.

AAC reached out to us and mentioned Sheena would be a good candidate for our donation program. We fell in love with her at first sight, and after an extensive dental procedure with multiple extractions, we’re happy to report that Sheena has made a complete recovery and found her forever home last week.

Why Does My Dog…?

why does my dog

At ZippiVet, we get asked the same questions by dog owners every day. You wouldn’t believe how many times we hear, “Why does my dog…” As dog behavior experts, we’re always glad to help!

Why does my dog have whiskers?

Whiskers, the long, coarse hairs protruding from a dog’s muzzle, jaw and above its eyes are filled with nerves that send sensory messages to a dog’s brain. A dog’s whiskers serve as receptors for important information about the size, shape and speed of nearby objects. This helps dogs “see” objects more clearly, even in the dark. Being able to feel vibrations in the air also helps dogs sense approaching dangers.

Why does my dog howl?

Howling is another way dogs communicate, along with barking and shrieking. Dogs howl for a few key reasons:

1) For attention

2) To alert their owner to danger

3) To make contact and acknowledge other dogs

4) In response to high pitched noises or sounds.

Why does my dog eat grass?

There are several theories for why dogs eat grass. Dogs don’t actually have the means to digest grass. They lack the enzymes needed to break down the fibers and it has little to no nutritional value. One reason for eating grass may be due to a feeling of nausea. It is possible that dogs learn this is a temporary solution for stomach irritation. Grass eating is a common behavior of normal, healthy dogs. If your dog seems sick or vomits more than occasionally (whether associated with grass eating or not), you should see a veterinarian.

Why does my dog lick?

Dogs lick their owners, other dogs, and themselves for a variety of reasons ranging from love and submission to a possible medical condition. Some of the more common reasons your dog might be offering up canine kisses include:

1) You taste delicious. As gross as it sounds, sweaty, salty skin can be intriguing to dogs, who often explore the world with their mouths and are comforted by the scent of their owners.

2) You inadvertently reward the behavior. Once licked consider your own behavior –  Did you reach down and pet or scratch your dog? Offer the dog food? Say something to them, even like “Stop licking me, would you.” These are all forms of positive reinforcement.

3) When a dog licks, it releases endorphins (the “feel good” hormone), which adds to the reward.

4) Your dog might be licking to show submission, especially while licking another dog’s muzzle.

5) Dog’s skin allergies or some anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder come out in licking. If you notice your dog obsessively licking themselves, a person, or an object (i.e. bed sheets), see a veterinarian, who may recommend medical treatment or a consultation with a behavior specialist.

Why does my dog pant?

With our many hot days in Austin, local dogs are typically panting to try to cool down. Pugs or Bulldogs with short snouts naturally pant more than other breeds, There may be other causes for panting in dogs, including:

1) When dogs are excited or are engaging in heavy exercise (like running or playing fetch) they will pant, much like a human can become out of breath after a vigorous run.

2) Dogs do not sweat like humans do so they pant to keep themselves cool. If it’s very hot outside or if the dog is dehydrated, it can be much harder for them to breathe, thus they will pant heavily to cool down. Read more about heatstroke in our blog.

3) When a dog is in pain they may pant excessively, especially if what they have just experienced is traumatizing.

4) In older dogs in particular, panting is a sign of other ailments. Signs of heart failure, lung tumors, and even choking in a dog will include heavy panting, breathing difficulty, and coughing. Read more about caring for senior dogs in our blog.

5) A dog that has eaten something poisonous may pant, as well as drool, vomit, or become lethargic. See your vet immediately to treat poisoning.

Why does my dog eat poop?

Coprophagia (kop-ruh-fey-jee-uh) is the scientific name for this nasty habit. There are both behavioral and physiologic reasons why some dogs view dung as a delicacy. Mostly it is about exploring their world and common among puppies, who typically drop the habit at about nine months of age. It is, however, a normal, natural behavior at some canine life stages. Mother dogs will lick their puppies to urge them to eliminate, and clean their feces for about the first three weeks. Dogs’ eating their own poop is harmless, but consuming that of other animals may cause health problems if the stool is contaminated with parasites, viruses, or toxins. We discuss parasites, including those that spread to people and how to treat them in-depth in a recent blog.


At ZippiVet, no questions are considered silly. Helping you to care for your dog is our top priority. Our Pet Wellness Exams offer plenty of time to get all of your nagging questions answered too. ZippiVet makes it easy to schedule an appointment in North Austin or our new location in South Austin.


High Risk Or Hairball? What’s A Pet Emergency?

Emergency Vet

Your pet’s illness doesn’t observe normal business hours, and neither do we. Whether your pet needs vaccines boostered or life-saving treatment, ZippiVet is open late on weekdays and all day Saturday and Sunday.

What is Considered an Emergency for Dogs and Cats?

The following conditions warrant an immediate visit. Severely injured pets may act aggressively toward their pet parents, so exercise caution when handling injured pets.

  • Trauma
    • bite wounds, lacerations, punctures
    • hit by car
    • blunt object trauma
    • falls
  • Bleeding from the eyes, nose, or mouth, or blood present in urine or feces.
  • Signs of extreme pain, such as whining, shaking, hiding, panting, and circling.
  • You suspect broken bones.
  • Your pet collapses or is unable to stand
  • Your pet has had or is having a seizure
  • Disorientation, bumping into things
  • Eye injuries or sudden blindness
  • Loss of conciousness
  • Breathing difficulties or hacking and gagging
  • Vomiting or diarrhea that persists more than 12 hours
  • Swollen and distended abdomen, with vomiting and/or retching
  • Straining to urinate or unable to urinate (particularly in male animals)
  • More than three to four hours between delivering puppies or kittens.
  • Toxin ingestion
    • Antifreeze
    • rat poison
    • any kind of medication that wasn’t prescribed for your pet
    • household cleansers
    • Plants
    • Sugar free food, candy, or gum (xylitol)
  • Symptoms of heatstroke.

Be Prepared for an Emergency

Your first step is to call your veterinarian. Keep your veterinarian’s name and number as a “favorite” on your mobile phone and in an easily accessible area of your home.

If you and your pet are in an unfamiliar city, use a hospital locator tool to find a vet hospital near you.

What Illnesses and Accidents Can ZippiVet Treat?

Our veterinarians can handle all of the emergencies mentioned above during our operating hours. If you’re concerned about your pet, you should never feel embarrassed about calling us. Our passion is keeping your pet healthy and happy.
ZippiVet is open for walk-ins, drop-offs, and appointments Monday – Friday: 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. and Saturday – Sunday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., except for a few major holidays. You can always reach us by phone at 512.904.0218 (North) or 512.514.1118 (South) or book an appointment online

It’s Always Sunny In Austin

seasonal dog health

Summer may be over on the calendar, but we’ve got plenty of high mercury days remaining in Austin. As Austin temperatures remain high until well into the school year, remember to keep your dog safe from common seasonal issues. Here are four to watch out for.

Heat Stroke

Just like humans, dogs can suffer heat stroke with exposure to high temperatures – something we’re familiar with in Austin. Dogs with a dark or dense hair coat and those with with flat faces (or short muzzles) cannot pant as effectively. Other risk factors include age, obesity and heart and/or lung disease. Remember that your dog has very few sweat glands and can’t naturally cool itself down as easily as you can.

When a dog has a spike in body temperature the extreme heat stress can both impair breathing and injure organs. The condition can be fatal if left untreated.

There are many signs that can point to heat exhaustion or heat stroke in dogs, including excessive panting, difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, stupor or even collapse. Symptoms can also include seizures, bloody diarrhea and vomit, along with an elevated body temperature of over 104°F.  If you see these more severe symptoms, especially the high temperature, see your veterinarian right away. If signs of heatstroke are present, your dog should be immediately cooled to a rectal temperature of 103.5°F.


Like many other dangerous pet parasites, heartworm is carried by mosquitos. A single mosquito bite can infect your dog, which makes Austin’s hot, wet climate particularly dangerous for dogs. When a mosquito carrying heartworm bites a pet, miniscule larvae can be deposited into the bloodstream. After six months, these larvae mature into adult heartworms. Adult heartworms can grow up to 12 inches long and usually lodge themselves into your pet’s heart, lungs and blood vessels.

Early heartworm can have no symptoms but as the disease progresses, mild symptoms such as a persistent cough, lethargy, decreased appetite, weight loss and a swollen belly from excess fluid can occur. Because the symptoms can be difficult to detect it is important that you take your dog into your vet for heartworm detection regularly and take the preventative treatment that they recommend.

Fleas and Ticks

Austin’s warm and humid climate also makes it the perfect breeding ground for fleas and ticks, outdoor parasites which can cause a host of problems for our pets, and for us. Ticks can transmit a host of diseases to your dog, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Bartonella, and Lyme Disease. Likewise, fleas can cause painful itching and flea-allergy dermatitis. Fleas have also been known to carry tapeworm.

As with most pet health issues, prevention as a part of overall wellness care is far easier and more cost effective than treatment. The best proactive measure you can take to protect your dog from these parasites is keeping them on a year-round parasite preventative that your vet recommends.

Dog Park Hazards

Lawn sprinklers and periods of heavy rain like we had in Austin this past spring can leave lots of puddles and standing water which can be dangerous for thirsty dogs. Street water can mix with dog feces, so when your dog bends down to get a big gulp of water, they may be unknowingly ingesting pathogens like Giardia. If your dog suddenly has a bad case of diarrhea after a rainy day out at the park, they may have contracted Giardia, an intestinal parasite caused by a common protozoan parasite. Dogs become infected with Giardia when they come in contact with infected feces, directly or indirectly. The most common symptoms of Giardia are diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss. While Giardia can be temporary, if the symptoms are ongoing, call your veterinarian since they can cause dehydration, deteriorating health and potentially death.

Another disease that they should be protected from when they play with other dogs is Canine Distemper, which is caused by a very contagious virus. Puppies and dogs usually become infected through virus particles in the air or in the respiratory secretions of infected dogs. Infected dogs typically develop runny eyes, fever, snotty nose, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and paralysis. It is often fatal. See your veterinarian if symptoms persist and get your dog the canine distemper vaccine. It is considered a core vaccine that is recommended for every puppy and as a booster for adult dogs.

Unvaccinated dogs and puppies younger than four months old are the most at risk for Canine Parvovirus-2 or parvo. Parvo is typically spread directly from dog to dog, but contact with contaminated stool, environments, or people can also spread the disease. The virus most often affects the lymph nodes, blood stream and small intestines of dogs. Some also see an affected heart. It can be fatal if not noticed or treated quickly. Once a dog or puppy is infected, there is an incubation period of three to seven days before the onset of first symptoms. Fortunately, there is a vaccine for parvo and it is administered to puppies and adult dogs as as a booster.

No matter the weather, the staff at ZippiVet can keep your dog happy, healthy and ready to play. Book an appointment today at either our north or new south location.

New Tricks for Owners of Old Dogs

old dog care

We love our dogs, from whether they are roly-poly puppies or distinguished seniors with gray coats. As your dog gets older, they need special care and it’s extra important that you make regular veterinary visits. Here’s what you need to know to care for your senior dog.  

What risks do senior dogs face?

As your dog ages, health issues may arise, including the deterioration of their skin and coat, loss of muscle mass, more frequent intestinal problems, arthritis, limited mobility, obesity, dental problems and/or a decreased ability to fight off infection. As your dog heads into their senior years, they may not be able to run as fast, jump as high or have the stamina they once had.

Stressful situations and abrupt changes in daily routines should be avoided. If a drastic change must be made to an older pet’s routine, try to minimize the stress by introducing the change in a gradual manner.

What qualifies as a senior dog?

Dogs may begin to experience physical changes between seven and 12 years of age. Like people, each dog ages at different rates, so yours may stay spry well into double digits. Mixed breeds and many smaller dogs tend to live longer. A small dog of less than 20 pounds might not show any signs of aging until they are age 12 or so. A 50-pound dog won’t “seem” old until approximately 10. Larger dogs begin to show their age at age eight or nine.  

How do you exercise senior dogs?

Older dogs tend to be less active than they were in their younger days. Degeneration of joints due to long-term wear and tear happens naturally, but can be exacerbated by obesity. Certain breeds are more prone to congenital issues like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and rheumatoid arthritis as they age. When your dog is experiencing limited mobility as a result of age or obesity, you may need to adapt your playtime routine.

While indoors, provide your senior dog with an environment full of both physical and mental stimulation to help them feel more youthful and active. Provide their treat toys (like a Kong) to dispense meals in smaller doses to improve both physical and mental function (by making them work for their snack) and to promote weight loss in heavier dogs. If you have stairs, ramps can help an older dog keep moving around the house without causing them too much pain.

Keep your dog healthy with regular outdoor walks throughout the week. Several shorter walks might be a better fit for a senior dog. Find a comfortable distance for them to walk each day.

Swimming is another option to help exercise older dogs without hurting their joints as they age.

Though dogs with physical limitations may want to keep playing, chasing balls and jumping like they did in their youth, senior dogs may not have the stamina anymore and they may also be more sensitive to hot and cold temperatures. Limit exercise and keep older dogs well hydrated and in the shade on our 90°F days. Avoiding heat stroke in the Austin climate is important.

Before starting your senior dog on any exercise routine, check in with your veterinarian on how to safely be physically active and discuss how to work with any health issues they may have.

What do you feed senior dogs?

As dogs age there are metabolic, immunologic and body composition changes that follow. Some of these changes may be managed with their diet. Special senior dog foods help them maintain their health and optimum body weight, slow development of chronic disease and minimize current diseases.

  • Importantly, studies have shown that the protein requirement for older dogs does not decrease with age. Feed older dogs diets that contain optimum levels of highly digestible protein in order to help maintain a good level of muscle mass.
  • Older dogs may be prone to put on body fat, even if they eat less, due to reduced energy expenditure or a change in their metabolic rate. Feed your senior dog a diet with a lower calories to avoid weight gain.
  • We may recommend increasing a senior Dog’s Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) intake through food or supplements. GLA is an omega-6 fatty acid that plays a role in the maintenance their healthy skin and coat.
  • Aging can affect a dog’s intestinal bacteria, which can result in symptoms of gastrointestinal disease. Senior dog diets should contain fructooligosaccharides (FOS) to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.
  • Antioxidants, including vitamin E and beta-carotene may help eliminate free radicals, the particles that may damage body tissues and cause signs of aging. A senior dog’s diet should contain higher levels of these antioxidants.
  • A dog’s breed, size and health help your vet determine when it’s time to start buying senior dog food.

Keep your dog healthy with routine care and veterinary exams to assess the presence or progress of any chronic disease. If you’re unsure about what to food or supplements to feed your senior dog or how to give them exercise and care at home, ZippiVet is ready to help you seven days a week. Schedule an appointment online and keep your old dog happy and healthy!

Life Number Nine: Caring for Senior Cats

senior cats

Old friends are the best friends, so the saying goes. Senior cats are wonderful pets and there are many things you can do to keep them healthy and happy later in life. We recommend following these guidelines to keep your senior cat feeling like a kitten.

What qualifies as a senior cat?

Many cats begin to encounter age-related physical changes between seven and ten years of age, and most do so by the time they are 12. Your cat’s species, breed, and the health of their organs will dictate when they start acting “old.”

Each pet is unique and cats that are up there in years may still be healthy or just beginning to show signs of aging.

What risks do senior cats face?

Arthritis is common in senior cats and some may find it difficult to climb into litter box or reach their food and water bowls.

Thick, overgrown claws that are brittle are more common in senior cats that are sedentary, requiring more frequent nail trimming.

Decreased appetite may be common as senior cats can lose their sense of smell and experience discomfort from dental disease. It is common for their appetite to decrease and for older cats to lose weight.

Changes in hearing and vision can appear as cats age. Their eyes may develop a slight haziness and several diseases can impair their ability to see, sometimes high-blood pressure is the underlying cause. Age also brings hearing loss, particularly in elderly cats over age 10.

Geriatric or elderly cats over age 10 may develop behavior changes associated with memory loss. Symptoms may include wandering, excessive meowing, disorientation and avoiding social interaction.

Compared to younger cats, an older cat’s immune system is less able to fend off foreign invaders. Chronic diseases such as diabetes and kidney disease can impair their immune function even further. Impaired kidney function and failure is common in senior cats, and its symptoms are extremely varied.

Hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer are all conditions that are more prevalent in cats as they age.

As a pet owners you may not be able to stop the age-related health changes from happening to your cat, but you can often manage them with exercise and diet changes.

What do you feed senior cats?

We recommend that pet owners start their cats on a senior diet at about seven years of age, which is when cats’ metabolism may start to slow and they may become less active. Senior cat food should include high quality protein, digestible carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, magnesium, fiber, antioxidants, and fatty acids. Senior cats may find it hard to digest and absorb fats so they need fats that are easier for their bodies to process.

Food for older cats is widely available to maintain their health and optimum body weight, slow or prevent the development of chronic disease, and to minimize or improve any signs of diseases that may already be present in your cat.  

  • Select a senior cat food that will help ensure they still get the same amount of energy as younger, adult cats as they age.
  • Vitamin, mineral, and electrolyte-levels may be lower in older cats if they absorb less of them through the intestinal tract or lose more of them through the kidneys and urinary tract. Some senior cats eat less cat food, including those with oral disease, so that may not receive their daily needs of vitamins and minerals. Antioxidants such as vitamins A (beta-carotene), E, and C may play a role in protecting your cat against the aging processes.
  • Monitor the weight and condition of your cat.

Consult with your veterinarian to determine which specific food and supplements will be helpful for your cat as they age from adult to senior to geriatric age.

How do you exercise senior cats?

Many senior cats retain their a built-in predatory drive and still enjoy hiding in boxes or chasing a wad of paper on the floor. Since your cat won’t be pouncing, sprinting or leaping like a kitten, keep some “teaser” toys like a laser pointer, crinkle balls and catnip mice handy instead.
Get your cat vertical stretching with scratcher or cat tree to stretch his muscles.

If your senior cat still has all its senses, move their food bowl around and make him hunt and work for it. Do this with healthy, dry treats too, leaving them in unique spots away from where you normally serve their food.

Limit senior cats to five-minute play periods three times per day if they are experiencing any discomfort. During times of exercise, be on the lookout for labored breathing, rapid tiring, difficulty moving, and tender or sore areas.

Before starting your senior cat on any exercise routine, check in with your veterinarian. Make sure that your pet is able to safely be physically active, and discuss how to work with any issues they may have, like arthritis or vision loss.

What special treatment do senior cats require?

Keep your senior cat healthy with close observation and a quick check of their health at home as often as once per week. Ask your veterinarian to show you how to do it and what to look for. Essentially, interact with your cat like you normally would and add in some observation.

  • When rubbing your cat’s head or scratching its chin, gently raise the upper lips with your thumb or forefinger so you can examine their teeth and gums.
  • Playfully lift the ear flaps and examine the ear canals.
  • While stroking your cat’s fur, take a quick check for abnormal lumps or bumps, and evaluate the health of their skin and coat.
  • Daily brushing can remove loose hairs, preventing them from being swallowed and forming hairballs. Brushing also has the benefit of stimulating blood circulation and sebaceous gland secretions, which gives them a healthier skin and coat.

Reduce your senior cat’s environmental stress whenever possible, as they may be less adaptable to change. Introducing a new pet may be a challenging experience for senior cats, and should be avoided whenever possible. Moving to a new home or even boarding your cat during a family vacation may cause them some stress. Pet sitting by a relative or friend is a good alternative for a senior cat. If you must board them, having a familiar object such as a blanket or toy may prevent the cat from becoming too distraught in a strange environment. Some stress can be alleviated by giving your senior cat more affection and attention during times of emotional upheaval.

Cats are known for hiding illness and senior cats are no exception. It is common for a cat to have a serious medical problem, yet not show any sign of it until the condition has advanced. Since most diseases can be managed more successfully when detected and treated early, it is important for owners of senior cats to carefully monitor their behavior and health.
Our pet hospital is here to keep your cat well in their ninth life. If you’re unsure as to what to feed your senior cat or how to give them exercise and care at home, we at ZippiVet are here to help. We make it easy to schedule an appointment and are open seven days a week.