We like to say around here at Bothell Pet Hospital that, “Old age is not a disease!” While we would never treat an animal based on its age alone, the reality is that the health of dogs and cats can change as they get older.
Just like in people, there are certain acquired conditions and diseases that more commonly develop in older animals:
- Older dogs and cats may sleep more than they used to when they were younger.
- They may not be as active, nor be able to jump up as they used to.
- Some eating and elimination patterns may change, as can their weight.
- Many owners notice that their senior pet’s breath is not as “fresh” as it used to be.
Although common, all of these signs could be attributed to treatable medical conditions that should not be mistakenly assumed to be due to old age.
Changes in Mobility in Senior Dogs and Cats
Arthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is very common in our senior canine and feline patients. “Slowing down” could actually indicate pain from chronically inflamed joints. Radiographs (xrays) of these joints will provide evidence to confirm this diagnosis, but may not be required for treatment.
Achieving or maintaining an ideal body weight is essential for the treatment of arthritis. Additionally, joint supplements (we recommend Dasuquin Advanced) and essential fatty acid supplements can be beneficial, and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) may be prescribed.
Complementary treatments such as acupuncture, physical and aquatic therapy often improve mobility and increase muscle strength.
Steps or ramps may be helpful for pets that need assistance getting on and off a bed, into a car, or going up and down stairs.
Many pets start to exhibit changes in eating habits as they get older. Some pets can become more finicky and fussy about their food. The food that they have eaten for years may seem unappetizing.
Periodontal disease progresses with time if untreated and causes pain that may result in anorexia. Often, a comprehensive oral health assessment and treatment plan can identify and address specific issues.
Inappetence can also indicate diseases involving the gastrointestinal tract, pancreas, kidneys, liver or other systems.
Senior screening bloodwork and urinalysis can help identify infectious or metabolic diseases and guide our recommendations for medications and supplements that target specific organ systems.
On the flip side, some older pets start to eat more and seem to not be satiated with their typical feeding. In cats specifically, this is a common sign of hyperthyroidism, a treatable disease of excessive thyroid function resulting in increased metabolism.
Changes in Behavior in Older Dogs and Cats
Behavior changes are commonly observed in older pets. Diminished hearing or vision that comes with age may contribute to these changes, although in general, pets tolerate altered senses very well.
Some pets become more anxious and anti-anxiety supplements (discussed in a previous newsletter article) can help. Other pets may mellow with age, preferring to sleep and lounge more.
Some may start to show signs of dementia or senility, called cognitive dysfunction in veterinary medicine.
Most often, however, behavior changes are related to health issues. A normally sweet dog that suddenly becomes irritable could indicate that something is wrong. A cranky cat that no longer seems able to muster a feisty response should also be a red flag.
Again, a comprehensive physical exam and senior lab screening can help identify specific issues to direct our treatment plan.
Help Your Senior Pet Live Life to its Fullest
Ultimately, you may find that your senior pet requires added attention and more frequent veterinary visits as he or she ages. Preventative medicine and recognizing problems early are often beneficial, as many conditions are easier to treat when identified in the early stages.
Pets today are living healthier, longer lives in large part due to medical advances and technology, but owners should also be credited with being proactive about their pets health and well-being.
Together, let’s make sure your senior pet lives its longest, happiest life possible!