Senior Pet Wellness Care Recommendations

Just like with human medicine, veterinary medicine is helping pets live longer than ever before. And just like with people, pets benefiting from this increased life span may have ailments that don’t afflict younger pets.

That’s why at Midway Animal Hospital we offer specialized care for senior pets. We screen for conditions that typically affect pets in their golden years, such as:

  • Weight issues
  • Changes in mobility
  • Degenerative joint disease and osteoarthritis
  • Tumors and cancers
  • Hormone disorders like thyroid imbalances and diabetes
  • Kidney, heart, and liver disease

We help pet owners become aware of older pet health concerns, and together we create a health plan for your senior companion.

What is the definition of a senior pet? It depends on the pet. Smaller dog breeds generally live longer than larger ones, and cats live longer than dogs. So, some small dogs may not be considered seniors until they are 10 to 13 years old, while giant breeds may be considered seniors as young as five years old. Your vet can help you determine when your pet has reached senior status.

You may also suspect your pet is entering the senior years by signs you notice that show the effects of age:

  • Moving more slowly
  • Difficulty getting up and down
  • Dulling of the senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell
  • Slower response to external stimuli
  • Cognitive and behavior changes that show slowing of mental processes
  • Inappropriate elimination and incontinence (accidents in the house)

Senior pet care starts with a regular health examination every 6 months, which becomes increasingly more important the older a pet gets. Your vet can catch health problems like arthritis and organ failure early in their progression, so they can be treated and managed as best as possible.

This is why we at Midway Animal Hospital recommend healthy senior dogs and cats visit the vet every six months for a complete checkup with laboratory testing, in agreement with the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). Remember every one year for your pet is equivalent to five to seven human years.

Your regular geriatric pet visit includes a complete examination of the pet and all of its body systems. We also run lab tests to evaluate the following:

  • Complete blood count (AKA CBC) to look at the ratio of red and white blood cells and platelets, to test for the possibility of anemia, infections, and leukemia
  • Urinalysis to check for substances not normally in the urine, like sugar, white blood cells, blood, or protein, and to diagnose urinary tract infections, dehydration, diabetes, and kidney disease, among other problems
  • Blood chemistry panel to measure electrolytes, protein levels, triglycerides, cholesterol, liver and kidney enzymes, along with elements such as phosphorus and calcium to help the vet assess organ function
  • Thyroid level to determine if the levels are too high (more common in cats) or too low (more common in dogs).
  • Parasite evaluation, looking at your pet’s feces under a microscope to detect parasites (roundworm, whipwork, hookworm, tapeworm, and giardia) and to get more information about digestive problems, internal bleeding, and pancreatic disorders

Sometimes other tests are needed for issues specific to your pet, including:

  • Heartworm testing
  • Feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus screening
  • Blood pressure testing
  • Urine protein analysis
  • Cultures
  • Imaging (x-rays, ultrasound, echocardiography)
  • Electrocardiography
  • Ophthalmic evaluation

If your pet is having surgery under anesthesia, additional tests may be required.

Once your vet has a baseline for comparison, as your pet ages, we can as a team address issues of aging and health concerns. Three areas where senior pets typically need assistance are:

Nutrition

Senior pets can benefit from pet food that is specially formulated with their aging bodies in mind. Because they often get less exercise than younger pets, older pets need to be monitored for obesity. Senior diets can also help provide your pet with the special nutrients older pets need.

Exercise

Just like older humans, geriatric pets need to keep moving to prevent their bodies from deteriorating more rapidly. Some dogs and cats need an adjustment to their exercise programs to accommodate arthritis and other problems of the musculoskeletal system. Your vet can assist you in creating an exercise program that maintains your pet’s vitality without putting a strain on the body.

Pain Management

Pain is used as a fourth vital sign, along with pulse, respiration, and temperature, to assess how an animal is functioning and feeling. Acute pain comes on suddenly, and is usually the result of an infection, an injury, or surgery. Chronic pain is long lasting and develops over time, such as with arthritis. Let your vet know about any kind of pain you feel your pet is experiencing, so together you can put together a pain management plan that could include medication, weight loss, adjustments to exercise, and alternative therapies.

Health problems in senior pets can come on quickly, so it’s important to be aware of signs that mean you should call the vet right away:

  • Sustained, significant increase in water consumption or urination
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Significant decrease in appetite or failure to eat for more than two days
  • Significant increase in appetite
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Diarrhea lasting over a few days
  • Difficulty in passing stool or urine
  • Change in housebreaking
  • Lameness lasting more than a few days or lameness in more than one leg
  • Noticeable decrease in vision
  • Open sores or scabs on the skin that persist for more than one week
  • Foul mouth odor or drooling
  • Increasing size of the abdomen
  • Increasing inactivity or amount of time spent sleeping
  • Hair loss, especially if accompanied by scratching or if in specific areas (as opposed to generalized)
  • Excessive panting
  • Inability to chew dry food
  • Blood in stool or urine
  • Sudden collapse or bout of weakness
  • A seizure (convulsion)
  • Persistent coughing or gagging
  • Breathing heavily or rapidly at rest

If at any time you feel like something is not right with your senior pet, please get in touch right away with the vets at Midway Animal Hospital. We want you and your geriatric pet to enjoy the golden years together.