Senior Pet Checkup

With the development of modern veterinary medicine and nutrition approaches, families are benefiting by having their pets live longer and healthier lives. As pets age, it is important to stay on top of their medical exams and preventive treatments (vaccines, heartworm, flea and tick prevention and deworming, etc.) to ensure they live the best life possible.

Senior pets benefit from semi-animal veterinary examinations to ensure they are healthy and to catch potential age-related diseases early. Bloodwork, X-rays and ultrasound may also be considered to gain a better understanding of how organs, such as the liver and kidneys, are functioning. Early disease detection and supportive treatments can help to extend your pet’s comfort level and life expectancy.

The following are some common areas of concern for senior pets that you may wish to discuss at your next veterinary visit:

Cognitive Function

As pets age, it is likely that they will experience some cognitive dysfunction, also known as Doggie Alzheimer’s, such as confused sleep/wake cycles, bathroom accidents in the house, changes in behaviour, mental confusion and altered activity levels.

Eyes And Ears

Eyesight and hearing loss can develop as pets age. Ensuring your pet is supervised when outside and has clear pathways within the home to navigate will help them adjust to these decreasing senses that occur with age. Consider limiting access to stairways to prevent falls and injury

Dental Health

Over time, plaque and tartar can build up on teeth, which can lead to bad breath, trouble eating, gum disease and tooth decay. In some cases, dental work may be needed to treat a painful mouth and to prevent bacterial infection from entering the bloodstream, where it can affect other organs such as the heart, kidneys and liver.

Heart And Lungs

As animals age, organs may work less optimally than they once did. This can include the heart and lungs. Signs of heart and lung dysfunction may include coughing, difficulty breathing, reduced exercise tolerance (pet not wanting to use the stairs, go on walks like they once did or tiring easily) and restlessness.

Digestion And Weight

As pets age, their metabolism may slow down and their dietary needs may change. The foods they used to eat easily may no longer agree with them, or may not seem as palatable. This can contribute to fluctuations in their weight from what was once normal for them. Certain disease processes may also contribute to a change in metabolism, dietary needs, digestion and weight.

Joints And Mobility

Over time the joints of pets, like their human counterparts, may develop degenerative joint diseases such as arthritis or osteoarthritis. The wear and tear of joints over time leads to a thinning of joint cartilage, which can become brittle and cause pain. Signs may include favouring a particular limb, limping or having trouble sitting or rising.

Skin And Coat

Lumps and bumps may not always lead to a diagnosis of cancer, as many are benign, but they could indicate a problem. It is always a good idea to have any new growths checked out by your veterinarian. It is also a good idea to have your pet examined if you notice a change in skin colour and any loss or thinning of hair as these may indicate underlying disease.

The great news is that, for many of the age-related illness that are seen today in senior pets, fantastic treatment options are available that can help give you as much time as possible with your furry family member. If you notice any of the above potential agerelated issues, make an appointment for an examination. Your veterinary healthcare team is always your best resource for your senior pet’s health.

Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She has previously worked in both small animal practice and a municipal animal shelter. With a special interest in the relationship between animal and human health she is currently the Provincial Manager of the OAVT Public Health Rabies Response Program and an active One Health Initiative advocate. She can be reached by email at


Canine Idiopathic Vestibular Disease

What Is Canine Idiopathic Vestibular Disease?

Canine idiopathic vestibular disease is a sudden, non-progressive disease of the vestibular system that is most often seen in older dogs and causes issues with balance. It is common for pet parents of a dog with canine idiopathic vestibular disease to think their pet has had a stroke, as the signs often occur suddenly and are alarming. A once normally acting dog will present with many unexpected neurological symptoms.

What Is The Vestibular System?

The vestibular system is the body’s balance control system. It is comprised of components located in the inner and middle ear (peripheral components) and the brain (central components) that relay messages to maintain balance.

What Are The Signs Of Canine Idiopathic Vestibular Disease?

Dogs present with the following signs:

  • Head tilt
  • Loss of balance, stumbling, trouble standing/walking (known as ataxia)
  • Circling
  • Jerky eye movements (known as nystagmus)
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty eating or drinking

How Is Canine Idiopathic Vestibular Disease Treated?

Once it is determined that the cause of the vestibular disease is not related to an ear infection or injury, hypothyroidism or drug toxicity, the disease may be treated in hospital with supportive care, including:

  • Intravenous fluids (if dog is unable to eat)
  • Anti-nausea and sedative medications
  • Cage rest (if dog is unable to stand/walk)

Once your dog is well enough to manage at home, the following supportive care may be continued until the signs resolve:

  • Anti-nausea and sedative medications
  • Assistance with walking
  • Supervision outside and near stairs
  • Monitoring the intake of food and water

What Is The Prognosis For Canine Vestibular Disease?

In many cases of canine idiopathic vestibular disease the first 24 to 48 hours is the worst symptomatically for the affected pet. Many dogs with canine idiopathic vestibular disease see the signs of disease resolve over a few weeks. Although it is possible for the head tilt and mild unsteadiness to remain long term, it is not common for the disease to re-occur.

If your dog is experiencing signs of canine idiopathic vestibular disease it is important to make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. This will enable you to rule out any other potential causes of the signs they are experiencing as well as initiate supportive treatment quickly.


Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She has previously worked in both small animal practice and a municipal animal shelter. With a special interest in the relationship between animal and human health she is currently the Provincial Manager of the OAVT Public Health Rabies Response Program and an active One Health Initiative advocate. She can be reached by email at


Canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is a gradual neurological degenerative disorder of senior dogs that is often compared to dementia, senility and even Alzheimer’s disease in humans. Over time, CDS impacts cognition, or the mental abilities and processes involved in knowledge, memory, judgment and problem solving.

Cognitive decline in dogs is typically manifested as behavioural changes in one or more of the following categories:

  • Disorientation in the home or yard
  • Changes in social interactions with family members
  • Disruption in sleep patterns
  • Loss of housetraining
  • Decreased levels of activity

The general treatment goals for CDS are to slow down the rate of cognitive decline and to relieve any pain or distress associated with changes in physical and/or mental status. Traditionally, CDS has been treated with a combination of medications (Selegiline) and oral supplements. Recently, several studies have indicated that nutrition plays a pivotal role in helping to combat this syndrome.

There are three major nutritional components that have been identified as crucial in supporting cognitive health in dogs.

Anti-Oxidants & Free Radicals

Aging in most animals is accompanied by the progressive accumulation of oxidative (or free radical) damage to body tissue, including brain tissue. As cells age, the mitochondria, which is the part of a cell that is responsible for releasing energy from molecules in food, begin to increase the release of free radicals. Large amounts of free radicals can cause damage in older dogs’ brain tissue, which can contribute to cognitive dysfunction and brain lesions.

Anti-oxidants work by decreasing the effects of free radicals in body tissue. Vitamin C and Vitamin E are the two most important anti-oxidants that have been found to inactivate free radicals and prevent cellular damage. Flavonoids and carotenoids, which are molecules commonly found in fruits and vegetables, have also been identified to aid in neutralizing damaging free radicals. Studies have found that when dogs suffering from CDS are fed an anti-oxidant-fortified diet, they display up to a 61% increase in enthusiasm in greeting family members and a whopping 74% reduction in housesoiling accidents.

Fatty Acids

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenic acid (DHA) are fatty acids that are naturally found in high concentrations in the brain. These fatty acids aid in maintaining brain cell health and brain connectivity by maintaining strong cellular membranes and promoting healthy blood flow to brain tissue. Several studies have found that diets rich in fatty acids, in combination with anti-oxidants, can delay or partially reverse age-related deteriorations in learning.

Medium Chain Triglycerides

Medium chain triglycerides (MCT) are a common nutrient that is found in vegetable oils. As a dog’s brain ages, the tissue starts to have a hard time obtaining energy from traditional sources like glucose (sugar). When this occurs, brain tissue does not receive adequate nutrition to maintain optimal cognitive function. MCT serve as an alternative energy source for brain tissue. Studies have found that dogs fed a diet high in MCT display improved memory, attention and learning abilities in comparison to dogs fed a diet not containing MCT.

peutic veterinary diets that contain these essential nutritional components. If you have any concerns regarding behavioural changes in your older dogs, be sure to bring them to your regular veterinarian for proper assessment, diagnosis and treatment. With many advances over the past 10 years, we are able to give our beloved companions longer and happier lives in spite of the effects of CDS


Andrea Smith BSc, DVM, CCRP (candidate) is associate veterinarian at Don Mills Veterinary Practice in Toronto, ON.



The heart is essential to the body, regardless of the species. Luckily, when dogs have heart problems, veterinary cardiologists, like Dr. Ryan Fries at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, are able to keep things ticking along.

Pacemakers have been used in human medicine since the early 1960s. In the late 1980s, Dr. David Sisson at the University of Illinois became one of the first veterinary cardiologists to place intravenous pacemakers in canine patients. Currently, the university’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital is the only veterinary facility in the state of Illinois that offers this procedure.

In dogs, pacemakers are used both as a life-saving intervention and to improve quality of life.

How Pacemakers Work

“A pacemaker is made up of two parts,” says Dr. Fries. “One part consists of a generator, a lithium battery and a computer chip that we can program to meet the dog’s needs. The other part consists of wires, called leads, that extend from the generator through veins in the neck and are attached to the inside of the heart.”

The pacemaker is activated when the dog’s heart rate slows below the acceptable range set by the veterinarian, generally between 80 and 120 beats per minute. When the pacemaker kicks on, it stimulates contractions of the heart until the heart’s rhythm is reset and can continue on its own.

Cardiologists like Dr. Fries place pacemakers while the dog is under anesthesia. The surgery is most commonly done using minimally invasive techniques. The equipment used is the same that’s used in humans, but the procedure is much more affordable: “The entire procedure typically costs between $3,500 and $4,000, which is consistent with other specialized veterinary procedures,” says Dr. Fries.




How Pacemakers Are Placed

“A small incision is made in the dog’s neck, and the leads are fed through the external jugular vein, the same vein used to draw blood. Once the leads are in, the generator is tucked in the skin and stitched up,” explains Dr. Fries.

These radiographs show the pacemaker in place at the patient’s neck and the leads travelling down to the heart. The patient, Lucy, is shown in the photos on this page.

Fluoroscopy is used to visualize the leads going into the heart so the veterinarian can ensure that the leads are attaching in the right place. Fluoroscopy, a form of real-time radiograph, or X-ray, is also used during a heart catheterization.

“Dogs might benefit from a pacemaker if they have an arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm) or a heart rate that is too slow to support the dog in daily activities,” says Dr. Fries. “Some arrhythmias can stop the heart and be life threatening. Other heart conditions may simply impede the dog’s ability to exercise and live a normal life.”

How Pacemakers Help Dogs

A classic presentation of a non-life-threatening heart problem occurs when an otherwise healthy dog suddenly faints while doing routine activities because of reduced blood flow from a slow or irregular heartbeat.

Certain breeds are genetically predisposed to heart abnormalities that can be helped with a pacemaker. Sick sinus syndrome, which affects heart rate, is commonly found in older West Highland White Terriers, Miniature Schnauzers and Cocker Spaniels. English Springer Spaniels are susceptible to a heart condition called atrial standstill.

breed, an advanced atrioventricular (AV) block — a condition in which the impulse that causes contractions in the heart’s atrium is not conveyed appropriately to the ventricle — can be treated with a pacemaker.

“Pacemakers can be a long-term solution and often allow the dog to return to full capacity. If placed early in a dog’s life, the battery may be used enough to wear out. However, the battery can be replaced quite easily,” says Dr. Fries.

Follow-Up Care

A dog with a pacemaker will likely need checkups every six months, alternating visits between a primary care veterinarian and a veterinary cardiologist, according to Dr. Fries. If needed, the settings on the pacemaker can easily be reprogrammed by a veterinarian, who will adjust the computer program by placing a magnet over the skin. No surgery is necessary

Following a month of rest after the surgery, dogs with pacemakers should be ready to resume normal activities. The only thing owners need to do is switch from a collar to a harness to keep pressure off the dog’s neck where the generator is.

“Pacemakers may offer the only treatment option that allows a dog to return to a normal life. We even put them in working animals that return to their jobs,” says Dr. Fries. “They are more common than you would think. There are no outward signs to tell the difference between a dog with or without one!”

If you have questions about pacemakers for dogs, contact your local veterinarian

From Pet Columns, University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine:


Need A Reason To Adopt A Senior Pet?

Ontario SPCA Animal Centres have many pets come into our care who are in their senior years of life. Sadly, many adopters look for the young animals first, and the older pets get left behind! Here six reasons to bring a senior pet home compiled from some of our older blogs:

THEY’RE FULLY MATURED. When you adopt a younger pet, they’re still in the process of learning, developing and growing. The great thing about a senior pet is that it’s fully matured, which means it has a fully formed demeanor, temperament and personality. This can help you when choosing a pet!

THEY TEND TO BE CALMER. Most older pets tend to be calmer and more laidback, which is why many of them do well in houses with young children or first-time pet owners. While they still require regular exercise, they’re not as high energy as a younger pet. That means more time to cuddle!

THEY HAVE EXPERIENCE BEING PART OF A FAMILY. Many senior pets were once beloved family pets but for whatever reason have ended up at a shelter. There’s a good chance your senior pet has lived in a home before and understands basic household etiquette. It’s also likely your senior pet has spent time being socialized around humans and will need less adjustment time before settling in as a member of your family.

IT’S EASIER TO TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW TRICKS. Older dogs tend to be calmer and have better attention spans compared to younger dogs, making them easier to train. Not only are senior dogs just as smart and trainable as puppies, but it’s likely that your senior dog will already be housebroken and familiar with basic commands.

STILL TIME FOR A STRONG BOND: ADULT ANIMALS CAN MAKE LOYAL, TRUSTING COMPANIONS. The animals seem to know they’ve been given a second chance and they take advantage of it.

THEY KNOW THEIR PERSONALITY: OLDER PETS CAN ALSO BE JUST AS SWEET AND PLAYFUL AS KITTENS. Also, when adopting a senior cat, you can get a sense of their personality and their needs, better than you can with a kitten who hasn’t fully discovered themselves yet.

Learn more about adopting pets and find your best match via the Ontario SPCA at and

When Your Pet Can’t Hear


Deafness is often difficult to assess accurately, mainly because pets are not able to tell us when they have trouble hearing. Usually, it is their failure to obey our commands or respond to familiar noises that first alerts us to a deafness problem.

Compared to humans, dogs and cats have a much different range of hearing. Humans can hear sounds in the 20 Hz (low sounds) to 20 kHz (high sounds) range. By comparison, a cat has a range of about 48 Hz to 85 kHz and a dog has a range of about 67 Hz to 45 KHz.

Deafness in dogs and cats can be of two kinds: conductive or sensorineural. If sounds cannot travel properly in the external or middle ear (i.e., sound does not conduct properly), the problem is said to be conductive. This can occur when there is an ear infection, a ruptured eardrum, blocked ear canals or fluid in the ear. Usually, in these patients, hearing loss is only partial and treatment involves medical or surgical correction. If this is the case with your dog, a veterinarian may be able to resolve your pet’s deafness.

If the deafness is sensorineural, the inner ear is involved and deafness is usually total. Sensorineural deafness is often due to nerve abnormalities or problems with the hydrodynamics or physics of the inner ear. As pets get older, deafness is a common occurrence and sensorineural deafness may be the cause.

Deafness can be hereditary in many breeds. Breeds most commonly affected include Dalmatians, Border Collies, English Setters, Boston Terriers, Collies and Rottweilers. It can also be associated with a genetic predisposition. Dogs with the merle coat colour gene and cats with white coat colour and blue iris genes are predisposed to deafness.

Deafness is difficult to evaluate in both dogs and cats, especially if only one ear is involved or if there is only partial deafness. Since pets cannot tell us what they hear, the best criterion for confirming whether a pet can hear or not is by its response to sound, i.e., the pet must consciously perceive the sound.

You can determine your pet’s ability to hear by making various levels of noise (from quiet to increasingly louder noises) and seeing if your pet reacts. Often, pets will display an involuntary flicking or twitching of the ears (called Pryor’s reflex) in response to a sound. Some veterinary schools have also had some degree of success with objective evaluations of hearing, using electrodiagnostic procedures.

using electrodiagnostic procedures. If you suspect that your pet has a hearing problem, consult your veterinarian so that he or she can determine what kind of deafness is involved and what can be done about it.