Senior Pets: Old Age is Not a Disease!
Have an older pet at home?
Just like humans, pets can develop a number of new health issues as they enter their senior years. Often attributed to simply “slowing down,” it is not uncommon for many of these age-related problems to go untreated or even unnoticed. However, many of these changes can be effectively managed with proper veterinary care.
Common age-related medical issues in pets include:
Arthritis is a general term that describes a variety of diseases characterized by inflammation within the joints. These disorders often result in progressive joint pain and stiffness.
Signs of arthritis include limping, muscle atrophy, stiffness, repeated licking over a joint and reluctance to run, jump or climb. Treatment aims to control the pain associated with arthritis as well as slow any further progression of the disease.
Also known as “doggie dementia” or senility, cognitive dysfunction is an age-related deterioration of mental abilities, including learning, memory and awareness.
Signs of cognitive dysfunction in pets include disorientation, confusion, anxiety, decreased interaction with family members, loss of house training and changes in sleep cycles.
Unfortunately, cognitive dysfunction cannot be cured; instead, the goal of treatment is to address the pet’s symptoms and slow the disease’s progression. Treatment options include an antioxidant-rich diet, oral medication, nutritional supplements and regular moderate exercise.
Heart Disease and Kidney Disease
As pets age, their organs gradually begin to decline. The organs most commonly affected by this “wearing out” process are the heart and kidneys. Heart and kidney failure includes a progressive loss of organ function over a period of time.
Heart disease progresses slowly in most pets. The symptoms may be difficult to recognize or may appear to come on very quickly. Signs to look for include slowness to recover from exercise, increase in respiratory rate (rapid breathing), coughing and lethargy. Heart disease can be treated to improve your pet’s quality of life. Most forms of heart disease can be detected during an annual exam and with the help of X-rays, EKG and ultrasound.
Signs of kidney disease include lethargy, decreased appetite and increased thirst, as well as an increase or decrease in urination. Early kidney disease can be identified with blood work and urinalysis. This disease process can be slow and symptoms may not be evident to the owner right away. It is possible to treat some forms of kidney disease and slow the progression of others.
Treatment for both diseases may consist of oral medication, nutritional supplements, fluid therapy, diet changes and acupuncture.
Dental and Periodontal Disease
Dental disease is very common in pets — in fact, it is just as common in dogs and cats as it is in humans!
While it comes on slowly, dental disease tends to worsen as pets age due to a decline in immune function. Dental and periodontal disease puts a strain on your pet’s health and can be quite painful. We know that these factors affect quality of life; fortunately, this condition is completely treatable.
One of the most common diseases affecting older cats, hyperthyroidism, is caused by the overproduction of thyroid hormones that increase the body’s rate of metabolism, resulting in weight loss and increased appetite. This disease also often leads to hypertension, or high blood pressure.
Other symptoms may include increased thirst and urination, a rough or unkempt hair coat, increased vocalization and poor body condition.
Remember, because dogs and cats age so rapidly (about seven times faster than humans), health problems tend to progress faster in pets as well. Early detection can help prevent disease and minimize suffering of an older pet. Bi-annual exams and yearly wellness lab work are highly recommended for all pets eight years and older. Comprehensive integrative consultations can help address many quality of life issues as well.