Did you know that dogs and cats are “technically” considered seniors after the age of eight years old? In giant breed dogs- it is even earlier often after six years of age. Since pets are living much longer, we see many animals experience one or more of these age related issues in their golden years.
As people age, our vision and hearing worsen; the same goes for senior pets. We do see vision changes manifest themselves as hesitancy to use the stairs in the dark, hugging the wall when walking up a dark hallway, reluctance to go outside unless the light is on etc. If vision is present but limited- using nightlights or outside lighting can help to minimize the hesitancy as much as possible and provide the best vision possible. Some pets do lose their vision completely. This can happen for a number of reasons from cataracts and glaucoma to retinal degeneration/detachment. If vision issues occur, an exam is needed to determine the cause and treat the underlying issues. While blindness sounds very scary to us, dogs and cats often do extremely well even unable to see. They are able to rely on their sense of touch, sound and smell to navigate their familiar environment with minimal problems.
Hearing issues can also happen as pets age. Just like people, the tiny bones and fibers within the ear needed for hearing tend to wear down with time. Hearing loss is often a gradual change, but if it appears suddenly, an exam is needed to look into that ear canal for further problems such as ear infections. With gradual hearing loss, some animals can hear certain pitches but not all. Trying different whistles of different pitches, clapping vs yelling their name, banging pots and pans are all different ways that you can get their attention when they may not be able to hear clearly. ALWAYS, keep any pet on leash when hearing loss is suspected as they may wander away and not be able to hear you calling.
Does your dog have “doggy breath”? Dental disease often happens as pets age. They accumulate more tartar on their teeth, losing the pearly whites that were present during their earlier days. The brown tartar on their teeth is comprised of bacteria- creating smell and risk. A dog or cat that has tartar on their teeth is at a greater risk for heart disease and kidney disease as they are constantly being exposed to bacteria. A dental cleaning is highly recommended to minimize their risks of further disease. As long as they are otherwise healthy, a senior pet is not at any more risk of anesthesia than any other patient. We recommend doing bloodwork prior to the procedure to make sure there are no unforeseen diseases affecting the main organs that process the anesthesia such as the liver and kidneys.
One of the most common problems seen in senior pets is arthritis. In a retrospective study, radiologists reviewed x-rays taken of pets, both dogs and cats, over the age of 9 years of age. These x-rays were taken for different reasons, often not limping. On these films, over 80% of the aged population has signs on x-ray of arthritis. Arthritic changes that are seen in the home often include limping, stiffness upon rising from a long rest period, missing a jump or “double” jumping to make the same height of a jump. These are all signs that there are changes occurring within one or more joints. There are both supplements and medications which can be used for comfort of the joints. We can decide together the best course of action to get your pet comfortable.
Another way to minimize arthritis is the appropriate diet and weight management. Keeping a senior pet of a normal body weight decreases the pressure and pain of each joint be that the elbows, spine, hips or knees. Senior formulas are lower in calories than adult and puppy. Senior diets or specialized weight formulas often have glucosamine and other additives to decrease joint inflammation. Senior food is also specially formulated to have the correct balance of fat, calories and protein. Older patients often have a decrease in kidney function which limits their ability to process dietary protein. Keeping a lower level of dietary protein is one way to protect the kidneys from further damage.
To discuss any of the above issues or other concerns you may have about your senior pet, give us a call and schedule your beloved pet’s exam today.