Good Old Pup- Caring for your Senior Pet
I always tell my clients that age is not a disease. But with that same breath, older pets have been around the block a time or two and so have their bodies, allowing for the development of age-related changes.
Pets are living longer now than they ever have. This is in part due to diligent owners bringing them into their veterinarians for routine checkups and advances in veterinary medicine allowing detection of diseases sooner that permits for better control overall.
So, when do pets get their senior citizen discounts?
The term “senior” tends to refer to pets over the age of 8 years of age. Larger breed dogs enter their senior years earlier than smaller breed dogs and cats. A 6 year old Great Dane would be considered senior, while a 6 year old Maltese would be categorized as a middle-aged adult dog.
Common issues seen in older pets
The most common senior associated disease processes include orthopedic, behavioral, metabolic, cancer, and sensory changes.
Most owner report their pets start slowing down around 7 years of age. Most of this is due to mild arthritis development, but weight gain secondary to a reduction in their metabolism can also contribute to the slower pace.
- Using good joint supplements BEFORE you notice your pet slowing down is key. While there are various options out there, keep to a good omega 3 fatty acids and glucosamine chondroitin supplement.
- Keeping your pet at a normal but thin body condition score can slow down the development of arthritis and improve joint health as they age.
Sensory loss is one of the more notable changes seen by owners as pets age. Generally, pets will first have some loss of hearing, before losing some vision, and lastly their sense of smell, and not necessarily in that order in all cases. Keeping your vet informed on simple changes to their routine is helpful in identifying these age-related changes.
- While training your pet, it is always a great idea to have a hand signal associated with verbal commands. This is helpful if they have some sensory loss in their older age.
- Use a high pitch squeakers or whistle to gauge how well your pup can hear you. While a crude concept, this is an easier option than hearing testing that can be costly and difficult to find, as it tends to be a more academic test.
Cancer has been reported more often in pets greater than 10 years of age than any other disease process. These disease can develop suddenly, or could be slow growing. Heart disease, kidney disease, and endocrine disease are all more likely to be noted in older pets as well. Routine wellness exams and prophylactic diagnostics, including bloodwork, blood pressure checks, and urine sampling, are key in diagnosing conditions early to then allow for the best possible management strategies.
VET TIP: As pets age, consider bi-annual wellness exams. This keeps both you and your vet up to speed on any subtle changes your pet may have and may allow for early diagnosis and treatment.
Dental disease may account for the most unforeseen aging issues by owners. As pets age, owners concern for prophylactic procedures and anesthesia are amplified. This can cause owners to be fearful of anesthetized dental cleanings, allowing plaque and tartar to build, and build, and build. Some cases can be as severe as to cause abscesses to form at the tooth roots, other can lead to anorexia due to the severity of the dental pain.
VET TIP: Do not negate their teeth! Age does not preclude pets from undergoing anesthesia.
- Your vet will make sure to take every precaution, including auscultating their heart and lungs, and checking their bloodwork, to make sure they are safe anesthetic candidates.
- Get your pet use to routine teeth cleanings at home and switch their treats from regular chews to dental specific treats.
Changes in behavior and routines
It is very common to becomes concerned when your pet seems less interested in things that use to excite them. While sometimes there can be a medical issue, most of the time they have a adjustment to their routine. These adjustments may be secondary to aging and adapting to their new normal. Changes can be as simple as only running after the ball 5 times, when it use to be 20. There is not necessarily a problem, but rather an adjustment.
Other behavioral changes can come about with older age and can be secondary to cognitive change. The most common clinical signs reported include breaks in normal training, house soiling, vocalizing (usually at night), anxiety, restlessness, and irritability, to name a few. All of these can be signs of cognitive dysfunction, seen commonly in senior pets.
VET TIP: Alert your vet to mild changes in behavior and breaks in training. Early recognition and use of senior supplements can be helpful in trying to slow down the oxidative damage usually seen with this condition.
We always want to remind owners that age is not a disease. While they be changing, it does not have to be for the worse. Make sure to inform your veterinarians of subtle changes to your pups normal so that appropriate steps can be recommended. And above all else, do not be stressed about the aging, but rather, embrace the changes in stride.
Love those old pups!