Senior Pet Care
Thanks to advancements in veterinary medicine, pets are living longer than ever. However, with this increased lifespan comes an increase in the variety of conditions and diseases that they are susceptible to, including: weight and mobility changes, osteoarthritis, kidney disease, heart disease, liver disease, cancer, and hormone disorders such as diabetes and thyroid imbalance and many others. Further, since pets age faster than we do, health problems can progress much more rapidly. Just as the health care needs of humans change as we age, the same applies to pets.
The veterinarians and health care team at Ahwatukee Animal Care Hospital pay special attention to your senior pet's comfort level and address any concerns about pain. It is critical for pet owners to work closely with their veterinarian to devise a health plan that is best for their senior pet.
According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), scheduling regular veterinary examinations is one of the most important steps pet owners can take to keep their pets healthy. When dogs and cats enter the senior years, these health examinations are more important than ever. AAHA recommends that healthy senior dogs and cats (age 7+ years) visit the veterinarian every six months for a complete exam and laboratory testing.
Senior care, which starts with the regular veterinary exam, is needed to catch and delay the onset or progress of disease, and for the early detection of problems such as organ failure and osteoarthritis. This is also an excellent method to establish baseline values which may be referenced in the event your pet does develop a medical condition.
Keep in mind that every year for a dog or cat is equivalent to 5-7 human years. In order to stay current with your senior pet's health care, twice-a-year exams are a must.
When Is A Pet Considered A "Senior"?
Generally, smaller breed of dogs live longer than larger breeds, and cats live longer than dogs. Beyond that, the life span will vary with each individual pet. Your veterinarian will be able to help you determine what stage of life your furry friend is in. Keep in mind that some small dog breeds may be considered senior at 9-10 years, while giant breeds are classified as seniors at ages as young as five years. A general guideline is age 7 + years; however, your veterinarian is your best source for more information to determine when your pet reaches the golden years.
Your senior pet's wellness exam should include the following:
Comprehensive Physical Examination
Intestinal Parasite Test
Overall Wellness Recommendation(s)
Vaccinations (if necessary)
A visit to your veterinarian is imperative if you notice any of the following:
|Changes in Mobility:
Difficulty Getting Up From a Down Position
Trouble With Stairs
Lameness (lasting more than 5 days or lameness in more than one leg)
Decrease in Ability to Jump On Furniture or Jump Into The Car
Decrease in Play Activity
Unexplained Weight Loss
Excessive Drinking and/or Urination
Loss of Appetite
Open Sores or Scabs on Skin (persist more than one week)
Increase in Inactivity or Amount of Time Sleeping
Increasing Size of Abdomen
Hair Loss (especially if accompanied by scratching or if in a specific area versus generalized)
Inability to Chew Dry Food
Blood in Stool or Urine
Sudden Collapse or Bout of Weakness
Persistent Coughing or Gagging
Breathing Heavily or Rapidly at Rest
Diarrhea or Vomiting
Skin Lumps, Bumps, or Irritation
Bad Breath or Drooling (more than two days)
Plaque on Teeth
Ear Odors, Redness, Scratching, or Head Shaking
Unexplained Weight Gain
Difficulty Passing Stool or Urine
Noticeable Decrease in Vision
The Effects of Age
A general "slowing down" over time accompanies the senior years. There are also sensory changes. As the senior pet's major senses (sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell) gradually dull, you may find that your pet has a slower response to general external stimuli. This loss of sensory perception often is a slow, progressive process, and it may even escape your notice.
The best remedy for gradual sensory reduction is to keep your pet active - playing and training are excellent ways to keep their senses sharp. Pets may also be affected mentally as they age. Just as aging humans sometimes begin to forget things and are more susceptible to cognitive decline, your aging pet may also begin to confront age-related cognitive and behavioral changes. Most of these changes are subtle and can be addressed in a proactive manner. Regular senior health exams can help catch and treat these problems before they more seriously affect your pet's life.
The physical changes your pet experiences are generally easier to spot than the sensory changes. As the body ages, its ability to respond to infection is reduced, and the healing process takes longer. Therefore, it is crucial to consult a veterinarian if you notice a significant change in behavior or the physical condition of your pet. Many of the signs indicating that animals are approaching senior citizenship are the same for both cats and dogs, but they can indicate a variety of different problems (see the list of problems above).
A very common and frustrating problem for aging pets is inappropriate elimination. The kidneys are one of the most common organ systems to wear out in a cat or dog, and as hormone imbalance affects the function of the kidneys, your once well-behaved pet may have trouble controlling his or her bathroom habits. If you are away all day, your pet may simply not be able to hold it any longer, or urine may dribble out while he or she sleeps at night. Additionally, excessive urination or incontinence may be indicative of diabetes or kidney failure, both of which are treatable if caught early enough.
Many older pets benefit from specially formulated food that is designed with older bodies in mind. Obesity in pets is often the result of reduced exercise and overfeeding, and is a risk factor for problems such as heart disease. Because older pets often have different nutritional requirements, these special foods can help keep your pet's weight under control and reduce consumption of nutrients that are risk factors for the development of diseases, as well as organ- or age-related changes.
Exercise is another aspect of preventive geriatric care for your pets. You should definitely keep them going as they get older. If they are cooped up or kept lying down, their bodies will deteriorate much more quickly. You may want to ease up a bit on the exercise with an arthritic or debilitated cat or dog. Otherwise, you should keep them as active, mentally and physically, as possible. This helps keep your pet sharp.
Pets experience pain just like humans do, and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends that veterinarians use path assessment as the fourth vital sign (along with temperature, pulse, and respiration).
The different types of pain include acute pain, which comes on suddenly as a result of an injury, surgery, or an infection, and chronic pain, which is long lasting and usually develops slowly (i.e. arthritis). You can play a key role in monitoring your pet to determine whether she or he suffers from pain.
To help ensure your pet lives comfortably during the senior life stage, it is critical to work with your veterinarian to tailor a senior wellness plan that is best for your dog or cat. Be sure to monitor behavior and physical conditions and report anything unusual to your veterinarian.
For more information on pain management, visit the following links:
Pain Management Acupuncture Laser Therapy
Often the issues of the senior pet are easily maintained. Problems such as heart and kidney disease, and arthritis can be treated but, if left unchecked, these conditions can cause serious problems and adversely affect the quality of your pet's life. It is critical that we evaluate your senior pet twice a year.
Senior/Geriatric Medicine offered by Ahwatukee Animal Care Hospital includes:
Regular blood work is a good idea at any age, but especially for older pets. Laboratory testing helps us understand the status of your pet's health.
When your pet is healthy, laboratory tests provide a means to determine your pet's "baseline" values. When your pet is sick, the veterinarian can more easily determine whether or not your pet's lab values are abnormal by comparing baseline values to the current values. Subtle changes in these laboratory test results, even in the outwardly healthy animal, may signal the presence of an underlying disease.
The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends that dogs and cats at middle age undergo laboratory tests at least annually. During the senior years, laboratory tests are recommended every six months for healthy dogs and cats, and more frequently for pets with health problems.
At a minimum, the following tests are recommended:
Complete Blood Count. This common test measures the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in a given sample of blood. The numbers and types of these cells give the veterinarian information needed to help diagnose anemia, infections, and leukemia. A complete blood count also helps your veterinarian monitor your pet's response to some treatments.
Urinalysis. Laboratory analysis of urine is a tool used to detect the presence of one or more specific substances that normally do not appear in urine, such as protein, sugar, white blood cells, or blood. A measurement of the dilution or concentration of urine is also helpful in diagnosing diseases. Urinalysis can assist the veterinarian in the diagnosis of urinary-tract infections, diabetes, dehydration, kidney problems, and many other conditions.
Blood Chemistry Panel. Blood chemistry panels measure electrolytes, enzymes, and chemical elements such as calcium and phosphorous. This information helps your veterinarian determine how various organs, such as kidneys, pancreas, and liver, are currently functioning. The results of these tests help your veterinarian formulate an accurate diagnosis, prescribe proper therapy, and monitor the response to treatment.
Additionally, further testing may be recommended based on the results of these tests, your pet's condition, and other factors.
These include heartworm tests; feline leukemia/feline immunodeficiency virus test in cats; urine protein evaluation; cultures; blood pressure evaluation; imaging such as ultrasound, x-rays, and echocardiography; electrocardiography; special ophthalmic evaluations, among others.
Additional tests become especially important in evaluating senior pets that show signs of sickness or are being prepared for anesthesia and surgery.
For cats, an additional routine blood test is recommended in order to check for hyperthyroidism, a common ailment in senior cats.
Fecal Testing. Microscopic examination of your pet's feces can provide information about many different kinds of diseases, such as difficulties with digestion, internal bleeding, and disorders of the pancreas. Most importantly, this test confirms the presence of intestinal parasites, such as roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, tapeworm, and giardia.
Electrocardiograms allow us to see and record the heart's electrical activity. This shows us if there is any weakness in the heart or irregular hear rhythm. An EKG may give us insight into potential heart disease or other problems affecting the heart.
Ultrasound and Digital X-Ray
Diagnostic imaging can give you a window into your pet's health by looking at their organs. Our digital x-ray provides crisp, detailed imagery or various organs such as the heart, lungs, and liver. Ultrasound and echocardiograms may provide more details about these soft tissue organs.
Blood pressure may be checked regularly as part of a geriatric exam or it may be necessary to check due to medications your senior pet is taking. Hypertension (high blood pressure) may be the result of many medical conditions, and/or the presence of high blood pressure in your pet may indicate a more serious condition needs to be treated. It can also be a side effect of certain medications common in older pets. Regular evaluation is critical to ensure your pet is safe.
As your pet ages, the vital organs, such as the kidneys, do not function as well. Administering subcutaneous fluids (fluids under the skin) is one method to help your pet's body handle the work load better. We will be happy to demonstrate how to give fluids at home and/or administer fluids here in the hospital, as needed.
Our pharmacy is stocked with medications to aid the aging cat or dog. From joint supplements to heart medications, we have what you need to help your pet live a long and happy life.
At Ahwatukee Animal Care Hospital, we strive to help every pet live a healthy, happy, long life. We consider it an honor to educate and guide our clients in making informed decisions regarding their pet's health and welfare.
For more information, click on the following links:
Ultrasounds X-rays Diagnostics