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:
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org