With advancements in veterinary medicine happening frequently, our pets’ longevity and quality of life are increasing as well. While this wonderful news means we enjoy our pets for longer than ever before, it also increases the demand for quality senior pet care and requires veterinarians to address needs in older pets not tackled in the past. Fortunately, care plans to treat older pets are developing rapidly, and most vets are now well-versed in addressing the special demands of our senior furry friends.
How do I know when my pet needs senior care?
Though pets age differently and at different rates throughout their lifetimes, cats and small-to-medium breed dogs are considered senior pets at 7-10 years old. Large and giant breed dogs may need senior care as early as age 6. Even if your pet seems healthy, adopting a senior-pet preventive medicine schedule by age seven will give your furry friend the building blocks for increased longevity.
What kind of diseases and ailments affect senior pets?
Just like aging people, senior pets experience increases in the following:
- Muscle and joint ailments (stiffness, weakness, decreased activity)
- Senility and brain disease
- Liver disease
- Kidney and urinary tract disease
- Heart disease
- Thyroid disease
While many older pets live long, happy lives without experiencing symptoms of any of these ailments, knowing there are increased risks will help you and your veterinarian keep a close, watchful eye on any changes in your pet’s health. As with our own health, it is crucial and desirable to find problems in the earliest stages when intervention is most effective.
As pets age, they may begin to demonstrate signs and symptoms of any of the above ailments. Though you should call us with any changes in your pet’s behavior, special attention should be given to the following:
- Sores that won’t heal
- New growths that you find or changing of old growths
- Lameness, stiffness, slowing down
- Changes in normal routines and habits (especially for cats)
- Urinary incontinence, changes in potty habits or unusual “accidents” in the house
- Increased thirst
- Noticeable unexplainable weight loss or weight gain
- Changes in breathing (rate, rhythm, sounds)
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea, particularly with blood
- Apparent dizziness or fainting
- Confusion/disorientation/sudden inability to respond to simple commands
Though any of these alone or in combination are not an automatic sign of a serious illness, they all require immediate veterinary attention. Then your pet can be on the road to recovery as soon as possible, and you can minimize the discomfort and additional consequences untreated illness can cause.
What will change with my pet’s care?
Senior pet care is a combination of using preventive medicine and addressing issues as they arise. Though every pet’s health will change at different rates, we use a series of guidelines to help you and your senior pet navigate potential challenges as she ages, and to prevent or slow the progression of serious health problems as much as we can. Standard guidelines are as follows:
- More frequent physical exams. Our pets age, on average, seven times faster than we do. Therefore, senior pets will need to be seen at least twice a year for comprehensive physical exams. That is equivalent to us going to our doctor every three to five years! Senior comprehensive exams should include annual or biannual baseline bloodwork and urine screens in order to catch some of the more common medical changes as quickly as possible. Others may need additional diagnostics such as blood pressure measurement, ECG and X-rays based on individual history and overall health status.
- Diet and nutrition. Older pets may need specially formulated food to help them digest more easily and optimize their overall health based on their individual medical needs. Weight gain and weight loss are both concerning changes for any pet. You should keep a close watch on your pet’s weight, as rapid gains and losses can be both a sign and a cause of potential health concerns.
- Parasite control. Older pets’ immune systems tend to be more compromised compared to those of younger pets. Because of this, intestinal parasite preventive medications, as well as flea, tick and heartworm preventive, are especially essential as pets age.
- As pets get older, most will experience joint stiffness, just like people. Offering your pet health-appropriate exercise will help keep their joints loose and make mobility easier. Many pet parents are quicker to recognize signs of arthritis and joint pain in larger dogs. However, millions of small dogs and cats suffer with these ailments because people don’t recognize the symptoms. Your veterinarian will be able to help assess and give you the proper tools to monitor your pet’s mobility and help you intervene, if needed.
- Mental health. Dementia, also called cognitive dysfunction, with similar roots to Alzheimer’s disease has been reported through clinical findings in both dogs and cats. Monitoring your pet for signs of behavior changes, loss of training habits and disruptions to normal routines is vital. Give your pet plenty of mental and social stimulation to help stave off age-related senility. There are also diet changes, supplements and medications available to help your pet with mental health issues.
- Environmental adaptations. Your senior pet may need environmental changes in the home and yard, such as steps to climb on beds and other furniture, non-slip rugs for slick surfaces, sleeping areas on the ground floor and less free range outside. Advanced adaptations are available for pets with physical disabilities.
Your senior pet can have many years ahead, and we know you want them to be enjoyable ones. So do we. With a combination of preventive care and early intervention, we can help your pet’s later years be as happy and healthy as possible. We understand that taking drastic measures to keep senior pets comfortable is not every pet owner’s goal, but understanding there are many simple, non-invasive, and financially feasible options to care for your senior pet is vital. Harmony Animal Hospital is here to help guide you through your pet’s golden years. Please call us to schedule an appointment for your senior pet today!
American Veterinary Medical Association: Senior Pet Care (FAQ), https://www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/Caring-for-an-Older-Pet-FAQs.aspx