Help Your Older Pet Live Their Happiest and Longest Life
Thanks to excellent veterinary and at-home care, many pets today are living into their teens and even early 20s (for cats). Although senior status varies by pet, generally:
- Most dogs are considered seniors around 6 to 8 years of age.
- Large-breed dogs may be considered seniors at 5 or 6.
- Most cats become seniors starting somewhere between 7 and 11.
However, as pets age, they tend to be at greater risk for certain diseases and health conditions, such as arthritis, heart and kidney disease, and thyroid issues. That’s why twice-yearly veterinary visits and more extensive screening tests, including blood work, become even more crucial for our senior dogs and cats. They can help catch diseases or other problems early on, when they may be easier to manage.
Not only can biannual blood work help detect diseases early, but it may also reveal that your senior pet is healthy, which can give you peace of mind.
Changes in Senior Pets
As your pet moves into his or her senior years, you may notice some common signs of aging, such as decreased hearing and vision, changes in how much your pet sleeps, and whitening of the fur, especially on the face.
Other changes may be less obvious, particularly if your pet hides signs that anything is wrong (especially common with cats). And because pets age faster than people, their health condition can change faster as well.
Common Diseases in Aging Dogs and Cats
Some common diseases and conditions that may affect senior pets include:
- Arthritis—This chronic, painful joint disease affects both dogs and cats, but when it’s diagnosed early, it can be managed more effectively, slowing the disease, minimizing pain, and maximizing pets’ mobility.
- Cancer—Screening tests are crucial to help catch cancer as early as possible. We have more treatment options than ever before for enhancing quality of life for pets with cancer.
- Dental disease—If pets don’t receive regular dental care, they will end up with gingivitis (gum inflammation) and eventually advanced periodontal disease (which causes chronic pain, oral infections, and even loose or missing teeth). Pets need veterinary dental exams and cleanings, as well as at-home dental care, such as toothbrushing, throughout their lives to help keep their mouths healthy.
- Diabetes—Drinking and urinating more frequently are classic signs of diabetes. Catching and controlling this disease early is essential.
- Kidney disease/urinary tract disease—Drinking and urinating more can also be signs of kidney trouble, but these symptoms aren’t always obvious, and kidney disease isn’t curable. However, if the disease is diagnosed early, your Vedder Mountain veterinarian can recommend a special diet, as well as other management options to help your pet feel better.
- Heart disease—Older pets are prone to developing heart problems, and high blood pressure (hypertension) is also common in these pets. A special diet and medications can help us manage heart disease and keep senior pets enjoying life.
- Hyperthyroidism/Hypothyroidism—Older cats tend to have hyperthyroidism, which speeds up their metabolism, making it hard for them to keep weight on, despite being hungry and eating a lot. Older dogs, on the other hand, tend to have hypothyroidism, which slows down their metabolism and makes them gain weight. We have options that can help pets with thyroid issues, but the earlier we catch them, the better. Untreated, thyroid problems can cause other serious diseases.
- Liver disease—Depending on the type of liver disease, pets may only have vague symptoms or not show any obvious signs until the disease is advanced, so early detection and treatment are crucial. Besides medications, we may also prescribe a special diet to help manage liver disease in some pets.
Twice-Yearly Testing for Early Disease in Pets
Biannual lab work, including blood and urine tests, can help us determine whether your senior pet has any diseases we need to treat. And early detection means we can start treating your pet sooner, rather than waiting until a disease has advanced and may be harder to manage.
If a disease is detected early, your pet may have more options for care and maintain a higher quality of life.
Certain diseases show similar signs, so determining the cause of your pet’s symptoms is essential. Testing plays a big role in helping us figure out what’s wrong and how to properly treat your pet.
Ideally, we like to begin performing senior screening for our patients at 7 years of age or earlier, so we can get a baseline of what’s normal for your individual dog or cat. This may vary for some pets, depending on breed, size, and specific health factors. Your Vedder Mountain veterinarian will let you know when they recommend starting senior wellness screening in your pet.
Updates to the Home Environment
In addition to making sure your senior pet continues to receive proper veterinary care, you can help keep your aging dog or cat comfortable and safer by making environmental adjustments around your home, such as:
- Offering stairs or ramps to make it easier for your pet to get into or out of your vehicle or onto the sofa
- Putting down nonslip rugs or carpeting, especially in areas where your pet spends a lot of time
- Providing extra-cushioned or pet-safe heated bedding options that will help keep your pet warmer or help soothe their painful joints
- Clearing clutter off the floor so a pet who can no longer see as well won’t trip over objects on the way to food or water bowls
We want to catch anything that isn’t normal as soon as possible, so let us know if you notice any physical or behavioural changes in your cat or dog or if something just doesn’t seem right. We can also give you more ideas to help make your home safer and cozier for your older pet.