Celebrating Senior Pets!

The definition of a senior pet in terms of age varies with species and breed. A cat is considered senior at approximately 10-12 years of age. A large breed dog could be considered a senior at 7 years of age whereas a small breed dog could be considered a senior at 10 years of age or even older. It is evident that the needs of a senior pet change but even more important to make sure your pet remains healthy and comfortable throughout their golden years. We have compiled some necessary tips on recognizing health problems in older pets and how to keep your senior pet comfortable and healthy!

One of the most common conditions plaguing senior pets in
Dental Disease (Periodontal Disease). It is incredibly important to maintain proper dental hygiene in pets, especially senior pets. A component of Dental Disease is chronic infection inside the mouth particularly at the gumline. These bacteria will gain access the blood stream and undoubtably puts the animal at risk of infection elsewhere in the body, such as the liver, kidneys, heart and other important organs. Often owners hesitate to have their pet’s teeth cleaned because they worry of the anesthetic. In many cases of periodontal disease, especially in senior pets, the risk of developing associated disease is much higher than the risk of anesthetic complications.

Another important aspect of senior health is
Nutrition. Similar to us, the nutritional requirements of pets change significantly as they age. Key components of a senior diet for dogs and cats include increased levels of anti-oxidants and vitamins, increased levels of omega fatty acids, reduced sodium and phosphorus, optimal fat and fibre levels and others. Unfortunately “all life stage” diets are not optimal. The nutritional and metabolic demands of a puppy or kitten is obviously much different from that of an aging pet. Your veterinary team can assist you in quest of the proper diet for your pet.

Check your pet regularly for lumps and bumps. These are very common in older pets and may either be benign or malignant. In some cases, your veterinarian will be able to tell you whether the mass is dangerous or not. It would be very wise however to biopsy these lumps as even though they may look and feel very benign, they could in fact be cancerous. For example, fatty deposits under the skin called lipomas could in fact be a cancerous mast cell tumour. Certainly addressing a cancerous mass sooner than later will be incredibly beneficial to your pet.

Are there
signs of pain or behavioural changes? Remembering that pets show pain MUCH differently than us, it is important to address as pain has an overall negative impact on the body and immune function. A pet that appears to be “slowing down” could be doing so because of chronic pain (E.g. Arthritis), soreness and stiffness. Your veterinarian will be able to assist and determine through a thorough history and physical examination.
Dogs in particular can develop a senility disorder similar to that in people. It is called Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome where abnormal behaviours such as disorientation/confusion, altered memory and learning, altered sleep-wake cycles and decreased perception to stimuli may be present. There are medicines proven to benefit your pet should he/she be diagnosed with this condition.

Is your senior pet drinking more and/or having larger more frequent urinations? Common conditions affecting senior pets include diabetes, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism (cats) and Cushings disease. All of the above share a mutual symptom: Drinking and urinating more. Should you notice your pet drinking more water than usual or urinating larger amounts or more frequently, consult your veterinarian as soon as possible as the diseases are manageable and prognosis may depend on speed of diagnosis.

As pets age much more quickly than us, most veterinarians will recommend an accelerated, bi-annual
physical examination and blood tests for your senior pet to ensure your pet continues to stay healthy. Remembering the old adage: “Age is not a disease”, so make sure you continue to spoil your pet so that they can continue to enjoy their senior years, they’ve certainly earned it!