Animal Medical CenterSenior Pets Deserve Special Care
We don’t like to admit it but as we age, our bodies start to "wear out". Our pets are the same way—their physical condition and health changes over time, too. You can help your special companion live longer with frequent wellness examinations.
The Senior Exam
Your pet’s Senior Health Program should include laboratory blood and urine tests, but we may also recommend radiographs (X-rays), an ultrasound, or an EKG. It is important to establish a set of "baseline" values for your pet with these diagnostic tests to make it easy for your veterinarian to monitor changes in your pet’s health over time.
Even if your pet seems perfectly healthy, frequent veterinary examinations are necessary for early detection of the changes and illnesses associated with aging. These changes may occur slowly, and you may not notice the subtle signs that your veterinarian can detect during an exam or through laboratory testing.
Talk to your veterinarian right away if you notice these signs of illness:
- Change in appetite
- Weight loss or gain
- Difficulty climbing stairs or jumping
- Increased stiffness or limping
- Changes in activity level
- House soiling "accidents"
- Changes in litter box habits/ inappropriate elimination
- Frequent urination
- No urination
- Skin or hair coat problems, lumps, or bumps
- No longer greets family members
- Does not seek attention/petting
- Wanders or paces
- Does not recognize familiar people/places
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath
- Tremors or shaking
- Increased water consumption
- Excessive scratching
- Bad breath
Don’t just dismiss changes in your pet’s health or habits as "part of the aging process"—they may be signs of serious disease.
Senior Nutrition and Diet
Your pet may still act young but, around the age of 7, dogs and cats begin to enter their "golden years". Just like older people, pets age 7 and older experience physical and behavioral changes, putting them at greater risk for age-related diseases, such as:
- Kidney disease
- Heart disease
- Urinary tract disease
Although your pet may not appear different at the age of 7, nutritional and physical needs have changed enough that the feeding and exercise routine you’ve grown used to may no longer be ideal.
You can reduce the risk of health problems and help your older pet live a longer, better quality life with regular veterinary care, including annual kidney screens, and feeding the best nutrition for your pet’s changing needs.
Most senior diets are formulated to meet the nutrient and energy needs of healthy dogs and cats who are 7 years or older. These diets include reduced fat for optimal body condition, high quality protein to maintain muscle mass, fiber to stabilize intestinal flora, as well vitamins, antioxidants, and fatty acids, all of which have scientifically shown to be of benefit to seniors. For those mature pets that are overweight, a reducing diet and exercise may be necessary.
As dogs reach middle age and their early senior years, they are apt to gain weight as their metabolism slows down and their activity decreases. Balance the amount you feed and the type of diet with the activity level of your pet. Dogs may need fewer calories as they get older and a diet lower in fat and higher in fiber.
Cats don’t have the same weight gain and loss patterns as dogs. Their energy requirements stay about the same throughout their adult lives. If your cat loses weight, call your veterinarian.
There are diets designed specifically for senior pets. We highly recommend Hill’s Science Diet and Prescription Diets. Ask us which diet would be appropriate for your pet. For additional information, visit the Hills website for nutritional information about your senior dog or senior cat.
Senior Dental Care
Dental care is more important than ever for your senior pet. Tooth loss and gum disease become more common with age, so it’s important not to neglect routine dental care. Up to 70% of older cats and 80% of older dogs have gum disease, which causes bad breath and can lead to kidney and heart disease. Regular dental checkups and dental cleanings are essential in order to prevent gum disease and tooth loss. Read more about on how to care for your senior pet’s teeth and gums.
Changes in Your Senior Pet
As pets age, their bodies start to "wear out". They may develop certain diseases, such as heart disease, liver disease, kidney failure, and cancer. In addition, older dogs may develop hypothyroidism, while older cats may develop hyperthyroidism.
Joint disease, such as arthritis, is one of the more common diseases that senior pets develop. Radiographs are usually recommended in order to rule out more life-threatening diseases. When a diagnosis of arthritis is confirmed for your dog, your veterinarian will prescribe one of the safe, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications now available. It is extremely important to give medications as prescribed, to have your pet re-checked at the appropriate intervals, and to have periodic blood evaluations on those pets receiving chronic long-term medications.
Read more about managing pain associated with canine arthritis in your dog.
Other changes commonly seen are behavioral changes, such as increased aggressions, development of noise phobias (thunderstorms), changes in urination and defecation patterns, increased vocalization, changes in sleep patterns, and confusion and disorientation in dogs, also known as "canine cognitive dysfunction". You may also note some deterioration in your pet’s eyesight and hearing.
Our goal at Animal Medical Center is to help preserve the health and quality of life of your older pet. We encourage you to talk with us about any concerns you might have about age-related health problems and preventive steps you can take to ensure a long and healthy life for your old friend.