Stepping Up with Senior Care
Dr. Betsy North
It seems like just yesterday you were bringing home a new little furry bundle to join your family. Now suddenly you are receiving senior pet recommendations and thinking "But my pet is only 7 years old and seems perfectly normal- why do we need to change things?" Pets age quicker than people do, but they have similar health needs and recommendations as they approach their later years.
The age at which your pet may commonly start to experience age-related issues can vary slightly by breed and size, but in general pets are considered "senior" after age 7. Giant breed dogs can start developing age-related problems as early as age 5, while toy breed dogs and cats often live well into their teens. However, it is important to start monitoring for subtle changes before pets become ill. This allows better management of any problems, extending length and quality of life.
The first step to good senior care is regular examinations by your veterinarian. After age 7, your pet should be seen every 6 months instead of once a year. As time passes, the aging of organs, such as the liver and kidneys, or arthritis symptoms are important to address as soon as they are noted on exam or labwork. If left untreated for a number of months, the likelihood that these problems will be more severe and harder to treat is much greater. It is important to discuss any changes that are noticed at home, such as weight changes, decreased appetite, or increased water consumption. Be sure to tell the doctor about any new lumps or bumps you may have noticed when petting your furry friend. These will then be checked to see if they could be cancerous and need removal.
Routine blood and urine tests are screening tools used to test for decline in kidney function, liver function, diabetes, and anemia, among others. Subtle changes in labwork will often be seen long before a dog or cat begins to develop signs that an owner could notice. A low grade infection in the mouth, as in dental disease, can also affect other body symptoms, like the kidneys and the heart. Diet changes or medication can have a drastic effect on slowing some disease processes. Pets will hide symptoms of illness as long as they can, so it is important to watch their behaviors and habits closely for changes.
Arthritis affects pets just like it does people. Pain and stiffness often begin to be noticed when a pet first gets up, but then they are better after activity. Early arthritis involves cartilage wearing within the joints. As time goes on, the lubrication within the joints decreases, cartilage wears away, and resulting inflammation speeds the process and pain. Bone deposits within the joint develop later in the disease, when pain management becomes the primary treatment. Earlier treatments with omega fatty acids, glucosamine, and anti-inflammatories can slow the advancement and symptoms of arthritis.
The goal of senior pet care is to lengthen the time we are able to enjoy with our pets. Finding and treating problems associated with aging keeps dogs and cats pain-free with a good quality of life for the years they have to spend with their families. Veterinary care is increasingly able to help owners provide longer, more comfortable lifespans for their furry friends.