Senior Pet Care
caring for our elderly pets
What is a senior pet?
The term senior varies depending on the species and size of the pet. A senior cat is generally considered any feline over 10-11 years old. A small dog follows the same rules, but a large dog may be considered a senior at about 9 years of age. A giant dog over the age of 6 or 7 is considered a senior.
As you can see from this chart, pets age much faster than humans.
One year is the equivalent of 4-6 years worth of aging in senior dogs and cats.
A lot can change medically in that much time.
We recommend physicals every 6 months for this age group.
Lab testing depends on the patient, but often includes blood and urine testing, blood pressures and glaucoma testing.
What are the biggest health and wellness issues facing senior pets?
Mobility and Arthritis
This can affect virtually any of our pets but often goes unnoticed. Smaller animals are able to hide symptoms more easily due to their lighter weight; however, they still experience age-related arthritis and the pain that goes with it. Due to their size and weight, arthritis symptoms are more obvious in large dogs, but they are still often missed in the early stages.
Arthritis pain can be severe in our seniors. The most common response we get is how much younger patients act after they have had this painful problem addressed.
Obesity has many negative effects on older pets. It increases the risk of diabetes and contributes to problems with mobility and arthritis. Common conditions such as bronchitis and collapsing tracheas are also made worse with weight gain.
Organ Dysfunction and Disease
We can greatly increase quality and longevity of life even in the face of organ disease, but only if we catch it early enough. Below is a list of symptoms to look for that should prompt a visit to the vet:
- Increased or decreased water intake
- Increased amount or frequency of urination
- Decreased stool volume or frequency
- Soft or overly hard stools
- Decreased appetite
- Any coughing
- Lagging behind or unwilling to go for a walk
Symptoms such as confusion or forgetting their potty training is more typical of the geriatric patient. But even seniors can begin to show increased anxiety. It is important to take steps as early as possible to keep their minds healthy and engaged.
Many pets will begin to lose their hearing between 11 and 13 years of age. They may have changes to their eyes that decrease their depth perception and vision as well. Good lighting and footing become more important for them as they enter the later stages of their lives.
Immune systems in senior pets change and make them more susceptible to infections, particularly in the bladder. Because the immune system is weakening with age, pets often do not give signals that there are problems.
While young animals with bladder infections will have accidents, urinate more frequently and drink more, older patients may not provide any of these signs or they may be written off as just symptoms of old age.
So what do we do with all this information for seniors?
Seniors are beginning to slow down and get a little grey. They need more monitoring from a health standpoint and more intervention to stay healthy. Seniors should have a physical exam every 6 months. Keep in mind that 6 months is the equivalent of 2-3 years for a cat or dog due to their increased rate of aging.
Physical exams not only allow the doctor to look, listen and feel your pet, but also provide the opportunity for the doctor and owner to compare notes on how the pet is doing and make adjustments early, rather than late into the problem. The later we find a problem, the harder it is to treat.
Blood work at least once per year is critical.
Full blood work should check the thyroid and urine, along with the liver and kidney function and a complete blood count looking for anemia or infection. We can run these tests in-house for same day results, or we can send results to an outside lab. When working with an outside lab, results are back the following day in most cases. At Cherokee Animal Hospital, you ALWAYS get a call back from our doctors to go over the results with you.
Blood pressure and eye pressure checks are also needed once a year. These tests are the only way to diagnose these problems. We now know that our pets experience vascular disease much more commonly than previously thought, especially in conjunction with other diseases such as kidney disease and diabetes. Testing blood pressure and eye pressures help us catch hypertension and glaucoma. Both of these diseases cause significant headaches that animals are unable to tell us about.
X-Rays and ultrasounds are recommended for certain conditions on an individual patient basis. Some breeds that are prone to heart disease are recommended to have these done more frequently (Great Danes, Boxers, Dobermans, Shepherds and many small breed dogs as well).
With blood tests, urinalysis, blood pressures, eye pressures, and physical exams, we are now equipped to begin managing any problems we find. We can help not only through proper diet, supplements, and medications but also with laser therapy and acupuncture as additional therapeutic options.
What else is important for seniors?
Proper Weight: Making our pets fat is the single worst thing we can do to for them.
We get it: you love them and they love the food, everyone feels good. However, it isn’t the food they love. It’s YOU! They love the attention you give them when you feed them. They love that you get excited about feeding them. The excitement and anticipation you see in them is about the interaction with you and the habit they have formed.
You have trained them to expect a treat, so they do. If you began to gradually reduce the treats and replace them with affection, they would eventually unlearn this habit. Don’t feel guilty! They really do love you, not the food. And in the end, a slimmer pet will have a better chance to live longer.
Animal engagement is important for all pets but especially as they age and start to sleep more and become less active.
They need to keep their brains active to be happy. Can you imagine if you spent the majority of your entire life in one house and yard? How bored would you be? Exploring the world is important for both cats and dogs. Even the indoor cat can go outside supervised or on a harness. Let them roll in the grass and soak up some sun, maybe chase a bug or two.
Dogs need to explore during slow relaxed walks. Sometimes walking is about the exercise, but even more important is exploring scents and stopping to pee on LOTS of stuff. These activities exercise the brain and while the physical walking exercises the body. Owners should go get their run or power walk in on their own, then come back and get the dog for the nice relaxed cool down walk. You can both benefit by the slower pace.
Dental work is very important for all age groups. Have you ever had a toothache? You know that constant deep throbbing that never eases up when this happens? Can you imagine having that all the time? How would animals tell us about this kind of head pain?
Many pets don’t really chew the foods we give them. They can just swallow it down and we have no idea their mouths hurt. Can you imagine the state of your teeth if you never brushed and never went to the dentist? Yet we are surprised when our pets have dental disease and need teeth to be removed because they are beyond saving.
We understand there is a fear of anesthesia and we will be honest about the associated risks. However, what we hear over and over is that after a week or two of healing, cats and dogs feel and act younger because that constant throbbing pain is gone! It really is worth it.
At Cherokee Animal Hospital we take pride in making sure we have done a thorough physical examination. We take plenty of time to address your concerns and help you get what you need to take the best care of your pet.