Over my 40+ years of practice, the advancements in veterinary medicine have been tremendous. Our pets are living longer lives than ever before. Unfortunately, medical conditions of elder patients are often not recognized and blamed on simply old age. The goal of Senior Pet Month is to help us become aware of some of the age-related diseases pets are prone to develop so we may provide better care for them.
Pets age faster than humans; every dog or cat year is equivalent to 5 to 7 human years. With the improved advances in veterinary care and feeding habits, your furry friend can live longer than before. Senior pets are faced with a variety of age-related conditions. Aging affects your pet’s organs and neurological and skeletal systems. Such conditions may include and are not limited to:
- Kidney disease
- Heart disease
- Diabetes Mellitus
- Prostate disease
- Liver disease
- Weight changes
- Joint or bone disease
- Urinary tract disease
- Hip dysplasia
- Vision problems
- Intestinal issues
- Dental disease
One way to avoid or prevent these conditions is through diet and exercise adjustments, proper diagnostics, and biannual checkups. This can help prolong and enhance your pet’s lifespan. A biannual check-up may include:
- Dental assessment
- Physical examination
- Organ function imaging (X-ray for lung and kidney function)
- Heartworm and intestinal worm tests
- Blood chemistry panel
- Eye check-up
- Blood pressure monitoring
- Comprehensive full body check-up (nose to tail)
- Complete blood count
Unlike humans, pets cannot express when they feel pain or discomfort, and you need to keep an eye on them. It is up to you to take care of your pet and endure they get the best care possible.
Early Signs of Aging
Be on the lookout for your pet’s early signs of aging, as this can help you and your pet get treatment as soon as possible. These signs could also mean that there is an underlying age-related disease. Signs include:
- Change in sleep patterns
- Diarrhea or vomiting
- Difficulty rising, walking, or climbing stairs
- Ear odors, scratching, redness, or head shaking
- Trouble controlling bathroom habits
- Bad breath, plaque, or bleeding gums
- Change in appetite or lack of appetite
- The appearance of strange lumps or bumps
- Excessive drinking
- Confusion or disorientation
- Urinating excessively
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Persistent cough
What To Expect From Your Seniors
Stay-at-home cats tend to live longer than dogs. Typically, they can exceed 20 years, depending on how well you care for them. On the other hand, dogs can live an average lifespan of 10 to 13 years. Usually, cats are considered seniors from 10 years of age. Between 10 to 12 years old, you may notice that it is starting to have less energy.
You may also notice confusion, nervousness, more napping, and less playing. Once your pet begins to age, they tend to spend more time on their own and cannot groom themselves as well as they used to.
Over time, pets’ metabolism, body functions, system, and organs begin to slow, leading to health issues that might even require veterinarian intervention. Their senses (sight, taste, smell, touch, and hearing) also begin to deteriorate, leading to loss of appetite, poor vision, and weight loss. Keeping your pet active helps keep their senses sharp.
Pets are also affected by mental conditions; there might be subtle changes to their behavior; for example, they may begin doing unusual things that do not make sense to us humans. They may also become less affectionate, and their orientation and memory may also be affected. Behavior changes may include:
- Protective or aggressive behavior
- Increased reaction to sound or noises
- Reduced response to commands
- Increased vocalization
- Sleep cycle changes
- Wondering a lot
- Minimal interaction with humans
Taking your pet for regular health exams can significantly help prevent or treat any health issues before they affect your pet’s health. Ensuring your pet’s quality of life is critical in ensuring they age comfortably.
Preventative Care For Senior Pets
You can help your pet live longer and healthier. The following tips can be helpful:
- Stimulate your pet and keep them mentally active. You can do this by interacting with them. Pay attention to their behavior and take them to the vet if you get alarmed.
- Ensure you feed your pet a balanced and healthy diet. Give them foods that are easily digested, with different nutrients and ingredients. If your pet has a health condition, give them the appropriate diet suited to their health condition.
- Keep a bowl of fresh water at your cat’s disposal since they tend to drink more water when they are older.
- Weight management is vital because excessive weight increases health problems, while weight loss should also be monitored, especially in cats.
- Talk to your vet about vaccination programs for your pet. As they get older, their vaccination needs might change.
- Keep your pet comfortable by regulating the heat in your house. If it is too warm, turn up your air conditioning and if it is cold, ensure it stays warm.
- Regular vet exams help identify any health issues early. This is essential because your pet can get treated in time before the disease progresses.
- Get your pet an orthopedic bed or a lot of bedding to enable your pet to sleep comfortably. This is because senior pets have decreased muscle mass and may have aching joints from arthritis that makes it uncomfortable to lie down.
- Keep litter boxes and food dishes easily accessible or elevated for your furry friend, especially if they have mobility issues.
- Keep your pet active and ensure you do not overdo it. Short walks or swimming are good exercises for your dog. Cats can play indoors with a ball of yarn or a laser pointer. Exercises and games help reduce obesity, maintain muscle tone, and mentally stimulate your pet.
- Routinely brush your pet’s teeth to prevent excess bacteria from being absorbed into the body and causing problems elsewhere. It also keeps their teeth in good dental condition.
- Set up a quiet and private place for your pet where there is no noise or frequent disturbances from other younger pets or children. Too much stimulation from noise or movements can make your pet uncomfortable and grumpy.
- To prevent your pet from falling on slippery floors, lay down non-slip mats.
- Get ramps or a small set of stairs to make it easier for your pet to get into a car, get down the stairs or climb a sofa. Ramps make it easier for your pet to access places than stairs.
Aging is inevitable, and it might be hard to accept that your pet is getting older. Giving them your full support goes a long way in helping them age gracefully. Spend quality time with them and keep monitoring their behavior and health. For more information please contact Cornerstone Animal Hospital.