Caring for senior pets

Like many veterinary practices, we often promote a specific area of pet health care at different times of year. This November we are planning a number of initiatives on care for senior pets.

Many of the issues that can greatly affect quality of life for our senior pets really need to be kept in mind well before they actually reach those twilight years.

Two of the most significant yet preventable issues we see that greatly impact a pet’s quality – and often quantity – of life are obesity and dental disease. To allow your cat or dog maximum comfort and quality of life as they age, these are two areas that can greatly benefit from attention.

More than any other group, in larger, more active dogs I would say probably the number one cause of death is humane euthanasia due to unmanageable discomfort and mobility concerns.

Sooner or later every part of any living creature will simply wear out – that, sadly, is a fact. The joints, especially hips and knees in large dogs, are high on the list of the parts that wear out most rapidly. One reason is that we have created, through selective breeding, dogs that are considerably larger than nature ever intended.

By allowing these dogs to become overweight we add insult to injury and greatly accelerate this already rapid wear and tear. Maintaining optimal body condition through your pet’s entire life is the most significant thing you can do to give your pet the best chance for comfort and mobility in their senior years.

This is also very true for cats, although it is far less frequently recognized by most owners. Cats, we have learned, suffer from arthritis far more frequently and more seriously than we once realized. Unlike dogs, however, cats will often not show obvious outward signs of discomfort. Rather than stiffly trying to go about their usual routine, cats suffering from arthritis will often just choose to sleep more and change locations less often. Many cat owners simply think this is normal, but we know that many senior cats with arthritis, once diagnosed and treated, will become considerably more active and spend much less time sleeping.

While maintaining an appropriate level of daily activity is very important for keeping your pet in good body condition, it is almost always diet that needs to be given special consideration. Talk to your vet about the many options available for weight loss and maintenance in your pet.

Dental disease is another area where early and ongoing attention can greatly improve your pet’s quality of life as they age. Even with our own routines of brushing, flossing and regular visits to the dentist, we all develop some degree of dental health issues as we age.

With minimal to none of this regular maintenance, most of our pets suffer at an accelerated rate. Untreated dental disease is painful and greatly increases the risk of infection and systemic illness, significantly lowering a pet’s quality of life and indeed their life expectancy. When identified early and addressed appropriately the negative impacts of this issue can be greatly reduced if not eliminated. Your vet can not only help you deal with whatever dental disease exists in your pet, they can also guide you in the many effective ways we can help maintain optimal oral health in your pet at home.

Other areas we will focus on during this ‘senior month’ are the importance of more regular general check-ups and the value of health screening and early illness detection through laboratory testing. We all know that our pets have a considerably shorter life expectancy than we do. This means not only will they pass away sooner, but the process of aging is greatly accelerated. The two years between a cat’s 16th and 18th birthday can be compared to the decade between a person’s 70th and 80th birthday in terms of age-related change. We strongly encourage owners of senior pets to come in for general check-ups every six months. We are also educating pet owners on the value of the information gained from laboratory testing.

The key to giving your cat or dog the very best chance at being comfortable, happy and as healthy as possible in their senior years is paying attention to the preventable, and doing whatever we can to detect and manage the less preventable as pre-emptively as possible. After many years of love and companionship, they deserve nothing less.

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