For older pets, a lot can happen in 2 or 3 months. Medical problems can develop quickly and early detection becomes critical. More frequent wellness exams for “senior citizen” pets gives us a chance to catch many diseases early—sometimes before they even start showing signs of illness.
Pets age faster than people. We have all heard that pets age 7 years for every 1 human year. However, many factors influence the rate your pet ages including breed, adult size, nutrition and lifestyle. In general, it can be said that pets are “middle-age” when they reach 6 to 7 years of age and after this age we may begin to detect subtle changes in organ function. This is why we, as veterinarians, begin to recommend certain tests, diets, supplements, and other measures to insure your pet may live as long and pain free as possible. In fact, the general pet population is living longer because of improved health care. While a good geriatric wellness program will help extend the longevity and quality of your pet’s life, it is important to note that care of the elderly pet starts at birth and is a life-long endeavor. Parasite prevention, diet, vaccines, exercise, and weight should be considered from birth. Finally, it is important to know that many changes you notice in your pet that you attribute to “old age” may in fact be preventable or reversible. For example, an arthritic animal may become less active but with proper diet, exercise and treatment may begin to “act like a puppy or kitten” again. We encourage you to read the following information on our comprehensive geriatric wellness program and let us know if you have any questions or are interested in scheduling these tests for your pet.
Diseases are more easily treated if they are detected early in the disease process before significant organ function has been lost. For example, an increased blood glucose level can indicate the beginning of diabetes. If detected early, the dog/cat can be treated with a simple diet change or insulin therapy. However, if diabetes is allowed to continue unmanaged, serious health consequences arise including liver disease, pancreatic disease, kidney disease, cataracts, seizures, and even death. Early detection of disease is a key part in maintaining the health of your pet.
- As pets age, frequent physical exams can help detect changes in your pet’s overall health. Enlarged lymph nodes, skin and abdominal masses, heart murmurs, and respiratory difficulty are important findings that can be detected on physical exams and require medical attention.
- Laboratory tests on your pet’s blood, urine, and feces can often reveal a problem before your pet begins to show outward signs of disease. A routine “geriatric profile” screens for liver function, kidney function, diabetes, infection, anemia, thyroid function, dehydration, intestinal parasites, and other signs of metabolic disease.
- A thorough medical history which you reveal through the observations of your pet at home can also provide clues to his/her overall health. Changes in activity, attitude, appetite, water intake, urination, bowel movements, or body weight will help us determine where to look for problems.
Dental care becomes increasingly important as your pet ages. When routine care is neglected, gingivitis, painful chewing, tooth loss, periodontal disease and even heart disease can all become serious problems. 70% of older cats and older dogs have some form of dental disease. Routine dental care has been shown to increase the length of your pet’s life by removing the source of infection that can affect other vital organs in the body.
Because nutritional needs change with age, feeding your dog or cat an appropriate diet also becomes more critical as he/she gets older. Age, body condition, weight, degenerative joint disease, and organ insufficiencies can all influence his/her needs. There are many excellent diets available that can be used to provide the exact nutrition that your pet needs.
Geriatric wellness programs are typically tailored to the individual. Factors such as your pet’s age, previous illness, overall health status, medications your pet may be taking, and your degree of commitment to your pet’s wellness influence the frequency of visits and the type of screening tests run. Please let us know if you are interested in implementing a geriatric health program for your senior pet.