If you haven't already, soon you may begin to notice some tell tale signs that your pet is entering his senior years. Maybe your dog takes longer to fetch a favorite ball. Maybe your pet has stopped greeting you at the door . . . or it takes longer to get there. Maybe your pet is "forgetting house training". Perhaps your pet is gaining weight, has poor skin and coat condition or is sleeping more than usual. While these things may seem like "old age" to you, the fact is that any or all of these signs might be an indication that your senior pet has a medical problem that needs attention.
In the past, we often accepted a declining quality of life for our aging pets (even for ourselves) as a fact beyond our control. Thanks to advances in disease detection and treatment, that is no longer necessary!
With appropriate veterinary care and nutrition, your pet's senior years can be a healthy and happy time. You know your pet better than anyone, so it's up to you to report any changes you see to your veterinarian. We also recommend that you bring your pet in for physical examinations and lab work more often now.
Remember: your pet ages 3 to 6 years for every one of yours. This suggests that health problems can progress 3 to 6 times faster and therefore, more frequent check-ups are necessary. By working together, we can prevent or treat many problems that could rob your pet of its quality of life.
Senior Health Care Recommendations
Twice yearly thorough physical exams is excellent advice for our senior pets. Our pet's aging process is greatly accelerated compared to humans, so early identification of disease and early medical intervention may be extremely beneficial to the health and longevity of your cherished pet.
Complete Blood Count (CBC), Blood Chemistry Profiles and Electrolytes - Although the thorough physical exam is essential, it cannot evaluate the performance of your pet's organs. Significant destruction of the kidneys and liver and other organs may not be detectable without blood tests.
Urinalysis - helps asses the overall health of your pet's urinary tract including the kidneys and bladder. Also checks for health indicators like glucose, hydration status, urinary tract infections.
Radiographs - Many body systems (spleen, lungs, prostate, gastrointestinal tract, neurologic system) produce no enzymes that can be measured in blood. Thus, diagnostic imaging should be considered, even if bloodwork is normal.
Blood Pressure - High blood pressure in pets can lead to kidney problems, heart disease, blindness, and other complications.
Ocular Tonometry - glaucoma testing measures the pressure in each eye quickly. Undetected glaucoma leads to irreversible blindness.
Electrocardiogram - is a recording of the electrical avtivity of the heart, detecting rate and rythm abnormalities in the heartbeat.
General Health Care Recommendations
Monitor your pet's weight: Rapid weight loss or gain may indicate significant disease. Hyperthyroidism (cats), diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer will usually result in rapid weight loss. Weight gain is frequently seen in any disease that decreases your pet's activity level such as arthritis and hypothyroidism or it may indicate an inappropriate diet.
Senior health care diets: Dietary needs mirror the changes occurring in the body, metabolism slows and fewer calories are required. Just as we need to alter our diet, as we grow older, aging pets should avoid excess weight gain. A properly formulated diet combined with a moderate exercise program is powerful preventive medicine for your senior dogs and cats.
Arthritis: General slowing-down and aging in pets may actually indicate pain. Evaluating the level of pain and medication can make a great difference in the quality of life.
Dental Care: Gingivitis can be painful and can progress to periodontal disease, tooth abscesses, and tooth loss. Bad breath can be a sign of periodontal disease. Bacteria from periodontal disease can enter the bloodstream through bleeding and inflamed gums which can affect organs causing further problems.
Cognitive Dysfunction: Cognitive decline (aka dementia) increases with advanced age. Indicators include loss of house training, increased anxiety, disorientation, sleep and activity changes, shifts in levels of aggression, and a general change in alertness.
Doberman Pinchers are prone to a heart muscle disease called cardiomyopathy. Early detection and treatment may significantly slow the progression of this fatal disease. We recommend a screening ECG (electrocardiogram) every 6 months for Dobermans starting at 5 years of age.
Labrador Retrievers may develop hypothyroidism as early as two years of age. Weight gain, seborrhea, torn cruciate ligaments and ear infections are frequent signs of hypothyroidism in Labs. Regrettably, Labs can also develop laryngeal paralysis and esophageal disorders which can lead to pneumonia and death. Labs that show any signs that could be attributed to hypothyroidism should be tested.