Senior pet health: Caring for your aging pet

We all wish our best furry friends will live forever (or at least as long as we do). However, dogs and cats age more quickly than humans, and by the age of 7, they’re considered middle-aged. When your pet starts to come up on AARP age, their health needs change. But with proper healthcare, diet, and exercise, there’s no reason your kitty or pup can’t reach the golden years – and maybe even reach the triple-digits!

Robust healthcare for senior pets
Geriatric pets – those older than age 7, or age 6 for dogs over 50 pounds – should receive:

1. Twice yearly wellness exams.
At Lancers Square Animal Clinic we check senior pets out from head to toe. Wellness visits include a thorough evaluation of your pet’s medical history, health risk screenings, senior pet health education, and referrals to specialty care (if needed). When we examine old pets, we look for common issues such as infected teeth, cataracts, heart murmurs, or tumors.

Regular physical exams and consultations are the most valuable tool to monitor your pet’s health. They’re an easy way to catch developing problems in your aging pet, and early diagnosis is critical to preventing and managing diseases including, but not limited to, dental disease, obesity, osteoarthritis, renal disease, and diabetes.

2. A health risk screen
As part of your senior pet’s robust healthcare regime, your veterinarian may suggest health risk screenings. There are a lot of critical values that need to be checked, including blood sugar, thyroid hormone, and kidney function.

Fortunately, there are easy tests to give us important answers, including bloodwork and urinalysis. With regular health screenings, you don’t have to wait until your pet gets sick before you realize something is wrong. We can catch any abnormalities right away, and address potential problems before they are detrimental to your pet’s health.

“Senior pets are much more likely to have diseases such as kidney and heart disease, as well as thyroid diseases and other endocrine diseases, such as diabetes,” says Dr. Chris Arnold. “Many of these can be found with regular twice-yearly labs and exams, and early treatment increases the disease-free interval between the time that the problem is diagnosed and the time it becomes life threatening.”

What health problems do older pets experience?
Senior or geriatric dogs and cats, like humans, are more prone to:

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney/urinary tract disease
  • Liver disease
  • Diabetes
  • Joint or bone disease
  • Senility
  • Weakness

While it’s true that cats and dogs are prone to many of the same conditions humans are, unlike humans, your dog or cat can’t say, “I better get this sore knee checked out,” or “This chest pain warrants a doctor visit.” Your pet depends on your bringing him to the vet to figure that out – even when you don’t see something obviously wrong.

You might notice a change in habits or a new behavior that’s a sign of a problem. A dog that won’t jump on the bed or a cat who isn’t grooming properly may have an underlying physical problem.

Here are some other behavior changes that may indicate something is wrong:

  • Increased reaction to sounds
  • Increased vocalization
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Increased irritability or aggression
  • Decreased response to commands
  • Incontinence
  • Decreased self-grooming
  • Change in sleep patterns

Behaviors that indicate advanced problems include decreased appetite or thirst, increased or decreased urination, poor coat quality, vomiting, sore mouth, blood in urine, weakness, coughing or respiratory issues, and decreased exercise tolerance. If your senior dog or cat experiences any of these problems, bring him to Lancers Square Animal Clinic right away, as these are signs of kidney disease, urinary tract disease, and heart disease, among other things.

Bottom line, dogs and cats are very much like humans: the older they get, the more health issues they may have. It’s always important to bring your dog or cat to the vet for annual or bi-annual exams, but as they age, it becomes even more vital.

“Owners should not wait until their senior pets are sick or not doing well to have them seen by their vet,” says Dr. Arnold. “Owners should have them seen at least twice a year so that diseases that are early in their course can be detected and treated early.”