Due to advances in veterinary medicine, pets are living longer than ever before. However, with this increased lifespan comes an increase in the types of ailments that can afflict senior pets. Upon reaching “the golden years” there are a variety of conditions and diseases that pets can face, including weight and mobility changes, osteoarthritis, kidney, heart and liver disease, tumors and cancers, hormone disorders (ie. diabetes and thyroid imbalance), and many others.
Just as the health care needs of humans change as we age, the same applies to pets. It’s critical for pet owner to work closely with their veterinarian to devise a health plan that is best for their senior pet.
When Does “Senior” Start?
Generally, smaller breeds of dogs live longer than larger breeds. Beyond that, the life span will vary with each individual, and your veterinarian will be able to help you determine what stage of life your furry friend is in. At the White Rock Veterinary Hospital, we consider pets to be seniors at age 7.
Senior Health Exams
Scheduling regular veterinary examinations is one of the most important steps pet owners can take to keep their pets in tip-top shape. When dogs and cats enter the senior years, these health exams are more important than ever. During the senior health exam, your veterinarian will ask you a series of questions regarding any changes in your pet’s activity and behavior. The veterinarian will also conduct a complete examination of all your pet’s body systems, and will recommend laboratory blood work and urine screening. Doing so will allow us to catch and delay the onset or progress of disease and to detect an early indications of organ failure and osteoarthritis.
Laboratory Blood and Urine Testing
When your veterinarian sends a blood and urine sample to the laboratory, a number of tests will be run.
A Complete Blood Count (CBC) measures the number of red and white blood cells and platelets in a given sample. The CBC gives the veterinarian information needed to help diagnose anemia, infections and leukemia. It can also monitor your pets response to certain treatments.
A Blood-Chemistry Panel measures electrolytes, enzymes and chemical elements such as calcium and phosphorous. This information indicates how various organs, such as the kidneys, pancreas and liver, are currently functioning. The results of this test helps the veterinarian formulate an accurate diagnosis, prescribe proper therapy, and monitor the response to treatment.
Your pets thyroid level will also be tested to check for abnormalities common in older pets.
A Urinalysis is the analysis of a urine sample. This is used to detect the presence of specific substances that normally do not appear in urine, such as protein, sugar, white blood cells or blood. A measurement of the concentration of the urine is also helpful in diagnosing diseases. Urinary-tract infections, diabetes, dehydration, kidney problems and many other conditions can be diagnosed by analyzing urine.
Other laboratory tests may also be recommended based on the results of your pets blood and urine screening.
The Effects of Age
Sensory Changes: In your pets senior years you may notice some of their major senses (sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell) dulling. Loss of sensory perception is often a slow, progressive process, that may even escape your notice. Keeping your pet active with play and training is the best remedy for gradual sensory reduction. Pets may also be affected mentally as they age. Just as aging humans begin to forget things and are more susceptible to mental conditions, your aging animal may also begin to confront age-related cognitive and behavior changes.
Physical Changes: Physical changes in your pet are generally easier to spot than sensory changes. As the body wears out, it’s ability to respond to infection or injury is reduced, and the healing process takes longer. It is crucial to consult a veterinarian if you notice a significant change in the behavior or the physical condition of your pet. A very common and frustrating problem with aging pets is inappropriate elimination. As the kidneys wear out, as they do in older pets, and hormone imbalances affect the kidneys your pet may have trouble controlling their bathroom habits.
Many older pets benefit from specially formulated food that is designed with older bodies in mind. Obesity in pets is often the result of reduced exercise and overfeeding and is a risk factor for problems such as heart disease. Because older pets often have different nutritional requirements, these special foods can help keep your pet’s weight under control and reduce consumption of nutrients that are risk factors for the development of diseases, as well as organ- or age-related changes.
Exercise is another aspect of preventive geriatric care for your pet. If pets are cooped up or kept lying down, their bodies will deteriorate much more quickly. Toning down the exercise in an arthritic or debilitated cat or dog is a good idea as well. Keeping your pet active both mentally and physically will keep them sharp.
Signs of a Problem
- sustained, significant increase in water consumption or urination
- sudden weight loss or gain
- significant decrease in appetite or failure to eat for more than two days
- significant increase in appetite
- repeated vomiting
- diarrhea lasting over three days
- difficulty in passing stool or urine
- change in housebreaking
- lameness lasting more than five days or lameness in more than one leg
- noticeable decrease in vision
- open sores or scabs on the skin that persists for more than one week
- foul mouth odor or drooling that lasts more than two days
- increasing size of abdomen
- increasing inactivity or amount of time spent sleeping
- hair loss, especially if accompanied by scratching or if in specific areas (as opposed to generalized)
- excessive panting
- inability to chew dry food
- blood in stool or urine
- sudden collapse or bout of weakness
- a seizure (convulsion)
- persistent coughing or gagging
- breathing heavily or rapidly at rest