Senior Pet Care FAQ

Just like human health, pets need checkups too. And our senior pets are no exception. Here’s why:

AVMA - pet years in human years equivalent chart
Image credit: American Veterinary Medical Association

 

 

As dogs and cats get older, they need more attention and special care. Our senior wellness program may help your pet remain fit and healthy, and help us catch any potential concerns earlier, when they’re easier to treat or manage.

 

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For your senior cats

Cats can give us many years of companionship. It is not unusual for our feline friends to live into their late teens and even twenties. However, senior cats require attentive care in order to ensure the best quality and quantity of life.

Cats are considered to be in the senior age range after approximately 7-years-old. It is important to address any concerns or changes that are noted and schedule general wellness exams with your veterinarian every 6-12 months.

Signs not to ignore:

  • Decreased grooming or coat changes
  • Increased vomiting
  • Diarrhea Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Increased water intake and urination
  • Coughing
  • Inappropriate urination or defecation
  • Straining to urinate

Common Health Concerns:

Thyroid disease is one of most common processes we see in older cats. Hyperthyroidism is an overactive thyroid which creates an excess of thyroid hormone. The increase in hormone causes the metabolism to go into overdrive leading to significant weight loss despite a good appetite, increased vomiting, increased urination and put extra strain on various systems in the body including the heart and liver. Hyperthyroidism is diagnosed via a blood test and there are multiple treatment options available.

Kidney disease is another of the most common concerns for aging felines. Cats with kidney changes will have increased water intake and urination (sometimes in inappropriate places) as well as a decreased appetite and weight loss. While there is not a cure for kidney disease, we do have options to manage the symptoms and slow progression.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is seen frequently in senior cats. Most often, hypertension is secondary to another disease process such as hyperthyroidism or kidney disease. If left untreated, hypertension can lead to issues such as blindness and vascular events.

Cancer is a relatively common finding in senior cats, as is the case in all aging animals. There are many forms of cancer, so there are no definitive clinical signs or single test that can diagnose cancer. Being diligent in monitoring changes and having frequent, complete physical exams provides the best opportunity to detect and address cancerous changes early.

Arthritis can become an issue as cats age. Keeping your cat a healthy weight can greatly improve their mobility. Sometimes adjustments may need to be made to where food or litterboxes are kept to allow access as cats get older and may not be as agile. There are also options for medical management to help keep our cats comfortable.

Heart disease is another important process to monitor for as our cats age. With time, the valves of the heart can alter and impact blood flow or there can be changes to the heart muscle or electrical activity of the heart. A physical exam and auscultation of the heart is the first step in monitoring for cardiac concerns.

Dental disease can greatly impact a cat’s comfort level. Tartar build up leads to an overgrowth of bacteria which can cause tooth loss as well as damage to the internal organs. Cats can also have significant dental disease under the gumline which can only be visualized with dental x-rays. It is important to have regular dental exams performed to assess the need for cleanings and other treatment.

Weight – Both being overweight and underweight can be a concern for older cats. Cats with excess body weight are at increased risk for things such as diabetes and arthritis. It is important to offer quality nutrition and control caloric intake to promote a healthy weight. However, if a cat is losing weight unexpectedly or too quickly, this can be a concern as well. Your veterinarian can help determine if you cat is a healthy weight or if adjustments need to be made to their nutrition.

Hearing and vision – With time, you may notice that your cat is not able to hear or see as well as they once were. Though sensory changes can be part of the natural aging process, they can also be an indicator of underlying health concerns so it is important to have you veterinarian evaluate these changes.

So, what to do next?

Routine monitoring with bloodwork is recommended on an annual basis for otherwise healthy senior animals. Cats aren’t able to tell us when they feel subtle changes, so often times early disease processes can be missed. Routine bloodwork can help detect changes before they show up externally, which gives us a better opportunity to intervene and prolong quality and quantity of life. The best scenario would be to have no significant changes to our senior screening bloodwork. In that case, we have a baseline to use for comparison going forward.


For your senior dogs

Though it is hard to admit, our dogs age much quicker than we do. As a general rule, small to medium dogs are considered senior once they reach the age of 7 years old, while larger or giant breeds are deemed seniors after 5 years old.

Aging is not a disease but, as our dogs get older, we need to be diligent about monitoring any changes that occur and keep up on preventative care. Senior pets should be examined twice annually by your veterinarian to help catch any potential issues and address concerns or changes that you have noted.

Signs not to ignore:

  • Changes to water intake
  • Changes to appetite
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Increased panting or changes to breathing pattern
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea Inappropriate urination or defecation
  • Painful behavior/ difficulty getting around

Common Health Concerns:

As our dogs age, we often notice changes to their normal routines or behavior. While some changes can be considered normal, they could also be an indicator of underlying health issues.

Excess body weight is a big concern for the general canine population, but especially for our senior dogs. Being overweight puts extra strain on the joints and cardiovascular system impacting both quality and quantity of life. Providing quality nutrition and the correct caloric intake is essential.

Arthritis can make it difficult for our dogs to be active or enjoy their normal activities. Dogs that are painful can also be more reactive and perceived as aggressive. A healthy body weight is often key to helping dogs with arthritis. There are also options for medications that can increase comfort level and mobility.

Oral health is often overlooked. However, dental disease can have a bit impact on our senior pets. Tartar build up can lead to bacterial spread causing issues with internal organs and problem teeth can lead to infection and mouth pain. It is important to have your dog’s teeth evaluated regularly to determine what oral care is recommended.

Cognitive changes can occur in our aging dogs. These signs can range from mild to more severe. Dementia in dogs is referred to as Canine Cognitive Dysfunction and leads to signs such as staring at the wall, aimless wandering/pacing, anxiety, inappropriate elimination and restlessness. Though there is no cure for Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, steps can be taken to manage the symptoms.

Cancer is an unfortunately common disease process in older dogs. There are many forms of cancer, so there are no definitive clinical signs or single test that can diagnose cancer. Being diligent in monitoring changes and having frequent, complete physical exams provides the best opportunity to detect and address cancerous changes early.

Heart disease is another important process to monitor for as our dogs age. With time, the valves of the heart can alter and impact blood flow or there can be changes to the heart muscle or electrical activity of the heart. A physical exam and auscultation of the heart is the first step in monitoring for cardiac concerns.

It is important to monitor for changes to internal organs such as the liver, kidneys and thyroid. The earlier changes are noted, the better chance we have to intervene. General bloodwork is typically the first step in evaluating core organ function.

Hearing and vision – It is not uncommon for older dogs to have changes to their senses such as hearing or vision. You may notice that your dog no longer comes when called or doesn’t meet you at the dog when you arrive home. It can be helpful to loudly announce your presence and approach in your dog's line of vision to limit startling him. For dogs who have vision changes, keeping furniture in the same location will help them have confidence to continue to move around the home. Though sensory changes can be part of the natural aging process, they can also be an indicator of underlying health concerns so it is important to have you veterinarian evaluate these changes.

So, what to do next?

Routine monitoring with bloodwork is recommended on an annual basis for otherwise healthy senior animals. Dogs aren’t able to tell us when they feel subtle changes, so often times early disease processes can be missed. Routine bloodwork can help detect changes before they show up externally, which gives us a better opportunity to intervene and prolong quality and quantity of life. The best scenario would be to have no significant changes to our senior screening bloodwork. In that case, we have a baseline to use for comparison going forward.


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