Geriatric Medicine

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In the past, we may have accepted a declining quality of life for our aging pets as a fact of life beyond our control. Like humans, older dogs and cats are more likely to encounter health problems than younger pets. Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine, pets are living longer than ever before. A 7 year old dog or cat is equivalent to a 50 year old person. Most humanoids are practicing preventive medicine at this age- routine physical exams, breast exams, prostate exams, blood pressure checkups, blood panels and dietary changes. Dogs and cats need similar preventive medicine at this age. Since they age approximately 7 years for every 1 year of human life, an 8 year old dog or cat is equivalent to a 56 year old person, and a 9 year old dog or cat is equivalent ot a 63 year old person. This rapid yearly increase in equivalent age emphasizes the fact that we need to pay close attention to all dogs and cats as they move beyond 7 years of life.

Just as older people experience a progressive decline in physical condition, so do senior pets. Studies indicate that 36% of senior dogs suffer from osteoarthritis, 18% show signs of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome, and the number one diagnosed disease of dogs in all age groups is dental disease. Compared to humans, old age problems may progress up to 7 times faster in senior pets. Having your senior pet examined only once a year is like a senior person visiting the doctor only once every seven years. That is why, as your pet nears 7 years of age (5 years of age in Giant Breeds), preventive senior exams every 6 months can help assess your pet’s current health, provide a baseline for monitoring changes in the years ahead, and help detect health problems in the early stages, when diseases can be treated more effectively.

Senior Care is “geriatric” medicine for pets. Senior health care implies both preventive and therapeutic approaches to medicine, including nutrition, dental care, and exercise as well as therapy for diseases.

Age Chart

Relative age of Your Dog in “Human Years”
Age Dog’s size in pounds
years 0-20 21-50 51-90 90 +
5 36 37 40 42
6 40 42 45 49
7 44 47 50 56
8 48 51 55 64
9 52 56 61 71
10 56 60 66 78
11 60 65 72 86
12 64 69 77 93
13 68 74 82 101
14 72 78 88 108
15 76 83 93 115
16 80 87 99 123
17 84 92 104
18 88 96 109
19 92 101 115
20 96 105 120
= Senior
= Geriatric

 


Symptoms

Changes in behavior or appearance may be the first indication of a problem. However, these signs may not be apparent in the exam room during your veterinary visit. It is important for you to watch for subtle changes, especially in stoic older pets.

Signs of aging:

Difficulty climbing stairs

Difficulty jumping up

Increased stiffness or limping

Loss of housetraining

Increased thirst

Increased urination

Changes in activity level

Excessive panting

Circling/Repetitive movements

Confusion or disorientation

Excessive barking

Less interaction with family

Decreased responsiveness

Tremors or shaking

Skin and haircoat changes

Changes in sleeping patterns

Less enthusiastic greeting or behavior

Altered appetite

Weight change

Common Health Conditions of Senior Pets

Obesity- As their metabolism slows down it is easy to overfeed. This leads to arthritis, sugar diabetes, liver disease, and heart disease.

Dental– Inflammation of the teeth and gums may lead to pain, infection, tooth loss, bad breath, kidney and heart disease, and, as a result, decrease your pet’s life expectancy.

Hormone (endocrine)- cause a vast array of symptoms that are treatable and sometimes curable.

Cushing’s– Excess production of cortisol (cortisone) by the adrenal glands.

Diabetes (sugar) – Excess glucose in the bloodstream due to a lack of insulin

Hyperthyroid– Excess production of thyroid hormone

Hypothyroid– Inadequate amount of thyroid production

Kidney– Failure of this organ can lead to chemical imbalances, anemia, compromised immune function, and blood clotting defects as well as altered mental capacity. Kidney disease is a leading cause of death in geriatric cats.Chronic Urinary Tract Infections can easily occur without you being aware. These are painful, and can predispose your pet to bladder stones.

Liver– Failure can lead to serious disease with chemical imbalances, anemia, compromised immune function, and blood clotting defects as well as altered mental capacity.

Heart– Pets with heart disease can experience difficulty breathing, fatigue, exercise intolerance, and lethargy.

Cancer– Can occur in many different organs. Early detection may improve the prognosis. Many treatments are available and most have few side effects.

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome– Similar to senility or Alzheimers in people.

Senior Exam

With frequent checkups, at least twice a year, we can screen for common senior diseases. By diagnosing and treating problems earlier, we may be able to slow the disease process and prevent pain and discomfort.

In addition to a complete physical examinationdiagnostic tests can help detect many diseases before your pet displays signs of a condition. Even if results are normal, the findings give you veterinarian a good baseline to identify and monitor changes in your pet’s health as the years progress.

You can do an in-home exam to help catch problems before they become entrenched.

Physical Examination We can check for physical signs of cancer, arthritis, heart and lung disease, dental disease, or cataracts.
Complete Blood Count
(CBC)
This test helps identify infections, anemia, and certain types of cancer as well as problems with bleeding and the immune system.
Serum Chemistry Profile This blood test can help identify diseases of the liver and kidney, and endocrine disorders such as Diabetes or Cushing’s.
Complete Urinalysis A urine sample can help test for kidney diseasediabetes, urinary tract infections, andbladder stones.
Fecal Exam A fecal sample can be checked for internal parasites and bacterial overgrowth.
Other Tests Depending on your pet’s overall health, we may recommend additional tests such asblood pressure measurementradiographselectrocardiography (ECG or EKG),ultrasound, thyroid (hyperthyroid or hypothyroid) or adrenal gland (Cushing’s or addison’s) testing, as well as liver, pancreas, and small intestine function tests.

Senior Nutritional Needs

Nutritional needs of pets change as they get older. Senior dogs should consume fewer calories due to decreased activity and reduced daily energy needs. This is very important because obesity increases the risk of serious diseases, arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, and musculoskeletal disorders in older dogs.

Pet foods, specifically for seniors, are now available with fewer calories, limited phosphorous, more protein, balanced fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals to meet the specific nutritional needs of senior pets. These foods have optimum amounts of nutrition, and can help in the progression of common diseases like kidney disease.

We recommend G/D (Geriatric Diet) by Hill’s as a great general food for older pets. Those pets that we suspect as developing kidney disease need K/D (Kidney Diet), also by Hill’s.


References:

1. Survey of Veterinarians, 1998. Sponsored by The Iams Company and Pfizer Animal Health.

Developed for Long Beach animal Hospital, by Glenna M Gobar DVM, MPVM, MS, courtesy of Pfizer animal Health; Sept 2001

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