Senior Pet Care
September is Senior Pet Care Month and TVV Decatur 's own Dr. Melissa Finke (left) gives us important tips and information on keeping our senior pets living longer, healthier and happier lives.
Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine, our dogs and cats are living longer and longer lives. As they age, however, we find ourselves dealing with ailments more common to these senior pets. It is up to you and your veterinarian to provide the best possible preventative care and to recognize problems early.
So, at what point do our pets become seniors? We generally consider our feline patients to be seniors once they reach the age of eight. Dogs, due to their varied sizes, are not quite so simple but eight years of age is still a good average. However, smaller dogs may reach old age 3 or 4 years later than giant dogs. Keep in mind, our pets age 5 to 7 years for every year of our life.
What are the diseases more often found in geriatric patients?
- Organ ailments are common and include diabetes mellitus, kidney and liver disease, and inflammatory bowel disease. The kidneys are often the first organ affected by the aging process.
- Urinary tract infections are common in elderly patients due to a weaker immune system. These infections are often “silent” meaning that there are no obvious outward signs. Left untreated they can result in kidney or system infection that can be life threatening.
- Hormone related diseases include hyper- or hypothyroidism (see below) and Cushing’s disease. Cushing’s disease results in the excess production of internal corticosteroids and weakens the immune system.
- Mobility problems can be due to arthritis or neurologic abnormalities.
- Eye diseases include KCS (dry eye), cataracts and glaucoma.
- Dental disease, if left untreated, can result in oral pain and also systemic infections.
- Cognitive changes occur in pets just like humans.
- Masses can range from outward skin tumors to those silently growing on organs. Every mass should be checked by your veterinarian to determine if it is benign or malignant.
You, as an owner, are key to keeping your senior pet healthy. Prevention is important. If your dog or cat is overweight, this extra strain on the body can take years off of their life. It can lead to diabetes mellitus or arthritis. While it is necessary to adjust the type and amount of exercise our pets receive as they age, it is important that some form of exercise continue. Keep your pet on flea, heartworm and intestinal parasite protection. The effects of these parasites can be devastating in the elderly. And, while you and your veterinarian should discuss exactly which vaccines are necessary, these are still important as our senior pets often have a suppressed immune system.
Our pets cannot speak to us and tell us that they are feeling ill. Look for changes in appetite or thirst. One of the first signs of diabetes mellitus or kidney disease often is increased water consumption. Inappropriate urination or defecation, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, weight loss or gain, decreased vision or hearing and mobility problems should all be reason for concern. Look for masses, bad breath and eye discharge. Seek out the advice of your veterinarian if you notice these signs or any changes from the norm. Perhaps the signs are benign or “normal” in an aging pet. But they could be signs of a bigger underlying ailment as well.
This leads us to the next recommendation. Have your senior pet examined at least on an annual basis. Your veterinarian will perform a thorough exam looking for the subtle early signs of a problem. They may also recommend laboratory tests included but not limited to the following:
- CBC: This measures red and white blood cell counts looking for anemia or signs of an infection.
- Chemistry: Changes in enzymes in this panel may indicate problems with the liver, kidneys or pancreas. It may indicate diabetes as well. Sometimes the abnormalities are more subtle and trigger your veterinarian to recommend additional testing in order to investigate.
- Urinalysis: This test can be the key to diagnosing urinary tract infections, diabetes and kidney disease.
- Thyroid: Aging feline patients often develop hyperthyroidism which results in an excess of thyroid hormone and a rapid metabolism. While canine patients develop hypothyroidism or low thyroid hormone production.
Depending on exam findings or laboratory results, additional tests may be recommended. These may include x-rays and ultrasound, blood pressure, or a urine culture.
Aging is not a disease. However, we need to recognize that with aging come more ailments. Veterinarians and pet owners can work together to give our pets long, healthy lives.