Dogs and cats are usually considered seniors when they reach 7 years of age. They slow down physically, just like humans do. Although the aging process is different for each animal, certain changes are common in most cats and dogs as they age. Problems related to age usually cannot be cured, but many can be managed successfully if detected early.
Older Pets may walk stiffly and have trouble getting up and down stairs. They may have a dull, dry coat and lumps on various parts of their bodies. Pets can have many of the same physical problems as older people, like poor eyesight and hearing, arthritis, heart, kidney, and liver problems and dental disease. Early discovery and treatment of these diseases of aging is the key to improved health.
COMMON OLDER PET CONCERNS:
Cognitive dysfunction can develop as your pet ages. This condition can cause behavioral changes including:
- Altered sleep cycles
- Emotional withdrawal
- Loss of appetite
- Urinating or defecating in the house
- Compulsive behavior such as pacing or incessantly barking for no apparent reason
There are specific diets and medications that may be helpful in eliminating these undesirable behaviors.
Inappropriate elimination is a very common and frustrating problem for owners of aging pets. The kidneys are one of the most common organ systems to fail in a cat or dog. Hormone imbalances also affect the functioning of the kidneys. Your pet may not be able to hold urine through the day, or urine may dribble out while sleeping at night. Excessive urination or incontinence may indicate diabetes or kidney failure, both of which are treatable if detected early.
Arthritis is a common health concern for older pets. They may have difficulty walking, running, swimming, climbing stairs, etc. and may experience more stiffness in the morning. New pain management medications can help make your pet more comfortable.
Cancer is the number one non-accidental cause of death in dogs and cats. Pets found to have cancer can have prolonged and normal lives with treatment and/or surgery. New diets have been designed to help retard the progression of cancer.
Diet is an important part of your senior pet’s overally health. Slowing metabolism and lower activity levels make older pets more prone to obesity. Extra pounds place a burden on heart, lungs, kidneys, joints and muscles. It is very important to try to keep older pets at their ideal body weight through good nutrition and appropriate exercise. Obese animals have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, elevated blood pressure, degenerative joint disease, diabetes, hepatic lipidosis (cats), cancer, hypothyroidism (dogs), dermatological issues and canine Cushing’s disease.
Nutritional Needs of older pets are significantly different from youngsters. They require less protein, fewer calories and salt, and more vitamins and minerals. Some older pets have reduced appetite and digestive absorptive capacity, resulting in inability to maintain optimal body weight. The ability to smell and taste may decrease with age, and poor oral health can affect your pet’s desire to eat. Here at Camino we can help determine a nutritionally balanced diet for your older pet. Most importantly, senior pets need a high quality, balanced diet including antioxidants, fewer calories, lower fat content, high-quality protein, moderately fermentable fiber (beet pulp) and omega fatty acids.
Remember at around age 7 your pet enters the “senior years” and there are a variety of health conditions that can go undetected. For example, a pet can lose 75% of kidney function BEFORE showing the signs of kidney disease. A complete senior evaluation includes a comprehensive examination, complete chemistry profile, complete blood count, urinalysis, chest x-ray and radiation consultation, and an electrocardiogram (EKG). These diagnostic tests allow us to determine how various organs, such as kidney, liver, pancreas, thyroid gland, heart and lungs are functioning.
Our approach for working with senior pets includes proper exercise, diet, dental care and frequent physical exams and laboratory tests. Senior pets benefity from a semi-annual comprehensive physical examination and bloodwork. Subtle changes in laboratory test results, even in an outwardly healthy animal, may signal the presence of an underlying disease.
10 Steps for Good Health
- Visit us here at Camino for a senior health care exam at LEAST every six months to monitor changes in your pet’s health.
- As your pet approaches senior status, we may recommend basic blood and urine tests as a baseline for measuring future changes. Regular blood testing can help identify diseases in their earliest and MOST treatable stages.
- Note changes in behavior or appearance and come see us. A trip to Camino Animal Clinic can get problems under control early, before they become major problems requiring more extensive treatment.
- Switch to a quality senior food that provides enhanced levels of key nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamin E and beta-carotene, plus gamma linolenic acid (GLA), a fatty acid important to skin and coat health.
- Have us clean your dog’s teeth regularly and follow the cleaning with recommended dental care at home.
- Provide moderate exercise. This will help with weight control and keep muscles toned.
- Talk with us if your dog or cat tires easily or has trouble breathing.
- Groom your senior pet at least once a week. Check for lumps, sores, parasites, bad breath and ear discharge or odor.
- Maintain a familiar routine and environment to minimize stress.
- If your pet has not been spayed or neutered, as us about having this done to avoid tumors of the mammary or prostate glands.