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.
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
- 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
- Addison’s– The opposite of Cushing’s
- 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.
- Skin conditions-Hair loss, itching, and skin infections are common
- Arthritis-This is painful and debilitating, and can easily sneak up on a pet without you being aware of it.
- High Blood Pressure– Usually secondary to a heart problem, kidney problem, or high thyroid problem.
- Inflammatory Bowe Disease (IBD)- A common problem in cats as they age.
- Epilepsy– These seizures have an unknown origin, and occur in older pets.
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 examination, diagnostic 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|
|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 disease, diabetes, urinary tract infections, and bladder 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 as blood pressure measurement, radiographs, electrocardiography (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.|
Here are examples of blood panels and urine samples that caught problems early, and before they became so well entrenched we would have a difficult time treating them.
This pet is anemic
This one has kidney failure
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.
All cats that are 7 years of age and older should be on Hill’s K/D due to the significant prevalence of this problem.
Many older dogs are obese and arthritic, and the Hill’s food Metabolic and Mobility is a major help for them.
We have much more information about nutrition in animals, and why you should never take the advice of a pet store or groomer on nutrition. It is an interesting read.
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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