GERIATRIC (SENIOR) CARE

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.

This cat was brought to us with the owner convinced his cat was holding his head like this “just cuz he was getting older” His cat has kidney disease causing low potassium (hypokelemia). It was diagnosed with a blood panel and urinalysis, and treated successfully. We would have caught this problem before it got to this point if we had seen this cat earlier for a routine exam.

Age Chart

Relative age of Your Dog in “Human Years”
AgeDog’s size in pounds
years0-2021-5051-9090 +
536374042
640424549
744475056
848515564
952566171
1056606678
1160657286
1264697793
13687482101
14727888108
15768393115
16808799123
178492104
188896109
1992101115
2096105120
= 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. Please use the following form to help you analyze your pet.

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

Dental DiseaseInflammation 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.
ObesityAs your pet’s metabolism slows down, weight gain can increase his or her risk of arthritis, disc disease, and diabetes.
Endocrine Disease:

Addison’s

Cushing’s

Diabetes

Hyperthyroid

Hypothyroid

Aging pets often experience changes in thyroid, pancreas, and adrenal gland function that can negatively affect the heart, digestive system, as well as liver and kidney.
KidneyFailure 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.

LiverFailure can lead to chemical imbalances, anemia, compromised immune function, and blood clotting defects as well as altered mental capacity.
Heart DiseasePets with heart disease can experience difficulty breathing, fatigue, exercise intolerance, and lethargy.
ArthritisArthritic joints are not only painful, they make it difficult for your pet to climb stairs, run, or even jump into your lap.
Vision LossOlder animals are at risk for cataracts and nuclear sclerosis (a natural aging process that “clouds” the eye).
CancerEarly detection may improve the prognosis. Many treatments are available and most have few side effects.
Senility or
“Old Dog”
Behavior Changes
What people may pass off as just “getting old,” can actually be symptoms of a treatable disease. Pets suffering from canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndromemay appear disoriented, forget housetraining, sleep more, and interact less with family members.

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.

Physical ExaminationWe 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 ProfileThis blood test can help identify diseases of the liver and kidney, and endocrine disorders such as Diabetes or Cushing’s.
Complete UrinalysisA urine sample can help test for kidney diseasediabetes, urinary tract infections, and bladder stones.
Fecal ExamA fecal sample can be checked for internal parasites and bacterial overgrowth.
Other TestsDepending on your pet’s overall health, we may recommend additional tests such as blood 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.

The Prescription Diets by Hill’s are the gold standard when treating problems in older pets. We have a complete page to help you understand which diet one of our doctors is recommending. Before you read up on these important diets you need to educate yourself on pet foods, and go beyond what you are told at a pet store or read on the Internet by someone who has no formal education in nutrition, has not treated tens of thousands of sick pets like our doctors have, who have not examined your pet and determined it body condition sore, do not have access to your pet’s diagnostic tests, and don’t have any idea how to interpret these tests.


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