Keeping older pets healthy and happy

by Damian Battersby, DVM and Shelley Skopit, DVM, Park Animal Hospital on Oct 27, 2013 • 9:56 am

It’s a fact of life that our furry friends age much more quickly than we do. As a result, the onset of disease and degenerative conditions tends to occur at an earlier age than many pet owners expect. These age-related health issues advance quickly and can catch us off guard. In addition, an animal’s health can worsen rapidly if disease is not discovered early in its course.

Just as with humans, as our animals get older, they eventually reach their senior years. Depending on the type or breed of pet, the age may vary. In most cases, 7 to 8-years-old is the point at which your veterinarian will refer to your pet as a senior. Some doctors may also refer to older dogs or cats in this age group as geriatric.

The old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is especially true in veterinary medicine – and is even more critical with senior pets. If a disease process is caught early, we have a far better chance to treat it effectively or even cure it before it spreads. In many conditions, such as arthritis, infections and some types of cancer, catching the problem early allows us to slow its progression, thus improving long-term quality of life and comfort.

When your pet becomes a senior citizen, it becomes more important to do things such as annual blood work, urine analyses and in some cases X-rays and blood pressure monitoring, in addition to semi-annual physical exams. This allows your vet to evaluate your pet’s internal organ functions and blood cell counts. Thorough examinations can catch problems early, including diabetes, and kidney, liver and thyroid diseases. It’s crucial for health issues to be identified before your pet becomes ill and needs to be hospitalized.

In addition, early detection can make a big difference in overall treatment costs. The cost of an annual exam is far less than having to treat an advanced disease. Your older four-legged companion will benefit from having routine once-overs by your vet and will stay healthier, happier and more comfortable longer.

Be sure to listen to your veterinarian’s advice on scheduling semi-annual exams. They can be a life-saver for your senior pet.

kittenSenior health visits are also an important time for you to spend time with your vet to talk about diet, nutrition and weight control. Older pets may have different dietary and nutritional requirements than younger animals. These visits are also an ideal time to discuss your pet’s mobility and how to maintain it with proper activity, as well as to consider supportive nutritional supplements, medication and even acupuncture therapy.

Another important topic to address with your vet is your pet’s environment. For example, does your older, arthritic dog have a big soft bed to sleep on? Or can you provide additional litter box options for your senior cat? The box upstairs was probably fine when your cat was young and spry, but it can be difficult for cats to climb stairs (or even climb into a high-sided litter box) as they get older.

It’s tough to watch our four-legged friends grow old, but you can keep them happy and comfortable by staying one step ahead of their health. This is important at any age, but absolutely crucial when they reach their golden years. There is much more to an annual visit with your veterinarian then just giving your dog or cat their “routine shots.” You definitely shouldn’t wait until Fido or Fluffy becomes sick to bring him or her in for a check-up. Our pets are members of our family, and just as with any of our loved ones, we want them to live long with the highest quality of life possible. Always remember that your veterinarian is there to help you achieve this goal for family members who can’t speak for themselves.

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