Preparing & Caring for Your Pet's Senior Year's
Over the last several years advances in veterinary medicine have allowed pets to live than ever before. However, with the increase in longevity comes an increase in the types of problems and diseases that can affect our senior pets. Examples include weight and mobility changes; arthritis; kidney, heart, and liver disease; benign and malignant cancers; and hormone disorders such as diabetes and thyroid imbalances. As your pet approaches and reaches the golden years, you may be wondering about some of the things to expect. Most importantly, you need to understand the difference in normal aging changes versus abnormal changes in your pet's health. Think of it in terms of humans---as health care needs change as we age, the same applies to our pets. As a pet enters their senior years, one can expect a general "slowing down". Major senses such as sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell may dull and they may be more susceptible to cognitive and behavioral changes. It is very important for you, the pet owner, to work closely with our veterinary hospital to develop a health plan that is best for your senior pet by discussing sensory and physical changes, nutrition, exercise, and pain management. Large breeds such as Great Danes, Retrievers, and Shepherds tend to age faster than small breeds, such as Dachshunds, Poodles, and cats. Signs of problems in a pet's health may include, increases in water consumption and/or urination, sudden weight loss or gain, decrease in appetite or anorexia for more than two days, significant increase in appetite, diarrhea, difficulty passing stool, change in housebreaking, lameness, noticeable decrease in vision, foul mouth odor, hair loss, excessive panting, seizures, sudden collapse or weakness, increased panting, persistent coughing/gagging, or increased size of the abdomen. Scheduling regular veterinary exams is one of the ways owners can keep their pets in top-notch shape and as a pet reaches their senior years, these examinations become even more important. Regular examinations and laboratory work (complete blood counts, urinalysis, blood-chemistry profiles, and parasite evaluations) help with early detection of disease/problems and are needed to catch and potentially delay the progress of specific diseases that afflict senior pets. Just remember, although senior pets may not have the energy of youth, they still have plenty of love and companionship to offer. Make sure your pet's senior years are happy and healthy by providing the extra attention and veterinary care needed.
What to expect during your pet's senior yearsAs your pet ages you will notice subtle changes. It is important to understand normal aging versus abnormal changes in your pet's health. If you notice any of the following changes, it is important to consult us about these changes and your pet's health.
- Sleeping more
- Dental and gum disease
- Deterioration of hearing and vision
- Joint inflammation and discomfort (arthritis)
- Muscle shrinkage and body weakness
- Dulling hair coat and/or changes in skin
- Abnormal urination and/or bowel movements
- Shortness of breath
- Fainting or collapsing
- Noticeable mass/tumor formation
The importance of regular checkupsDiagnostic screening can help prevent serious medical problems. We highly recommend that your "best friend" have a complete physical examination. We also recommend twice yearly exams for pets 7 years of age and older. By establishing a baseline of normal values before the senior years, we can detect any changes that might indicate health problems. Your pet may appear healthy, yet some diseases are difficult to detect and often go unnoticed. Diagnosed early, most conditions can be completely reversed or controlled.
Important Fact! Data from senior health screening exams show that more than 22% of senior dogs, and 17% of cats that appear healthy, have been found to have significant sub clinical disease.
How does a senior exam differ from a normal exam?Our senior care program incorporates laboratory testing, which can be invaluable in revealing additional information concerning your pet's overall health above and beyond what can be detected by physical examination and your personal observations.
- Thyroid Hormone - essential in regulating your pet's metabolism
- Complete Blood Count (CBC) - used to diagnose and manage disease conditions such as anemia, infection, inflammation, leukemia and clotting abnormalities
- Serum Chemistry Profile - provides valuable information regarding various organ systems such as the liver, kidneys, and pancreas
- This is an extremely important laboratory test that is performed in our veterinary hospital. Examination of the urine can assist us in diagnosing many different conditions including diabetes, urinary tract infections, kidney and liver disease, and many other conditions.
- Aid in the diagnosis of heart disease, internal abnormalities and osteoarthritis
An important message for cat owners
There are more than 90-million cats in the U.S., or about 20% more cats than dogs. However, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, cats are brought to the veterinarian only about HALF as often as dogs. Some veterinarians believe that cats hide illness better than dogs, and many times owners may not realize that there is a problem.
- Behavioral changes can be an early sign of illness in both cats and dogs. These changes are often less obvious in cats.
- Cat owners may not notice subtle changes in appetite, elimination, or other behavior until an illness is advanced.
- The risk of cancer, periodontal disease, obesity, kidney disease, thyroid disease and diabetes increases with age in cats.
Today, new pharmaceuticals, better nutrition and preventative veterinary care are helping pets live longer than just a few decades ago. Although senior pets may not have the energy of youth, they still have plenty of love and companionship to offer. Make sure that your pet's senior years are happy and healthy by providing the extra attention and veterinary care needed.
When is my pet considered a senior?
There is no set age when your pet officially becomes a "senior." The aging process is influenced by breed, genetics, metabolism, veterinary care, nutrition, exercise and whether yours is an indoor or outdoor pet. Outdoor pets are more exposed to fighting, weather changes, and disease than indoor pets.
Large breeds such as Great Danes, Retrievers, and Shepards tend to age faster than small breeds, such as Dachshunds, Poodles, and cats. The chart below shows the approximate age of when your pet is considered a senior citizen.