Pets Growing Old Gracefully

Thanks to improved nutrition and medical care our pets are living longer than ever! It’s nice to know that we can enjoy many more years of their love and companionship. As with everything, though, there is a trade-off. Like their two-legged caregivers, our pets become more vulnerable to health problems as they age. However, educating yourself and taking an active role in your pets’ health care can help them not only live longer, but enjoy the high quality of life that comes with the successful prevention, treatment, and management of disease.

When do your pets qualify for a senior discount at the movies? There isn’t a single answer to this question, because many factors play a role in determining when your cat or dog is a bona-fide senior citizen. These variables include size, genetics, lifestyle, breed and environment. For example, on average cats live longer than dogs, while small breed dogs tend to live longer than their larger counterparts. You may have heard that seven=senior (or at least mature) when it comes to dogs and cats, and while this is often true, your best bet is to ask your veterinarian how to classify your pet’s age.

As our pets age, the type of medical care they need changes, too. At a minimum, senior pets should have a wellness exam every six months to ensure early detection of disease. Other basic comprehensive senior screening recommendations may include a full blood panel, urinalysis, and blood pressure. Chest radiographs and potentially an ultrasound (if the radiographs warrant further diagnostics) are also sometimes used. Owner observations play a very important role in the monitoring process too, and it is very important to discuss any changes you may witness with your veterinarian. Recognizing even tiny physical or behavioral changes in your pet could prolong his or her life.

Some of the most common diseases that cats and dogs develop as they age include heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, glandular disease, dental disease, cancer and diabetes. Some breeds are more susceptible to certain illnesses, and it is very important that you discuss breed predilections with your veterinarian in order to begin appropriate testing early on. The sooner a disease is detected the easier it is to treat. Some diseases are specific to each species as well.

The following are just a few things to consider as your four-legged friends get older:

Do wellness blood screening while your pet is still young - the results provide excellent baselines for future comparison and will help your veterinarian recognize any trends early on.
Check them over regularly from the tip of their head to the tip of their tail for any lumps or bumps. Alert your veterinarian of new growths, or if existing ones change.
Keep a journal of any changes in behavior such as difficulty getting up, changes in sleep patterns or lapses in housetraining. This will help determine whether these are intermittent or ongoing problems, as well as their duration.
Remember that "slowing down" isn't always just a symptom of age, and it may mean your pet is experiencing pain. Talk to your veterinarian about this - while we can't turn back the clock, there are many options for managing pain.
Know your pet's ideal weight, and work hard to keep him or her slim. Allowing your pet to gain weight will compound and/or create health problems. If your pet is overweight, talk to your veterinarian about dietary management.
Regular exercise is very important; while you don't want to overdo it, there is no reason older pets can't enjoy long walks and playtimes - don't let them become couch potatoes!

It is never too early to talk to your veterinarian about senior care. Knowing the facts and providing high quality preventative medicine throughout your pet’s lifetime is the best way to ensure happy and healthy golden years and a long and enjoyable future together.