Through the years, pets give us their best: their love, devotion, and obedience. When they reach their golden years, it becomes time for us to give them our best. Senior pets need a little extra attention, particularly when it comes to health care. By teaming up with your veterinarian, you can make your pet’s final years some of her best.
When is your pet considered to be senior?
Because different species and breeds age at different rates and have different life expectancies, there is not one general answer to this question. Average life expectancy for a dog is approximately 12 to 14 years, but small-breed dogs, such as poodles, can live into their late teens, while giant breeds, such as Great Danes, often live only 8 to 10 years.
Cats can be expected to live 14 to 16 years on average.
In general, an animal can be considered a senior pet when she has reached three-fourths of her life expectancy. We recommend senior pet care when dogs and cats reach 7 years of age.
Common health problems for elderly pets
As pets age, many health problems can develop that impact their quality of life. Common senior health issues include:
- Dental disease
- Kidney failure
- Liver disease
- Heart disease
Senior health assessments and preventive lab work
Because deterioration of body systems can occur quickly in senior pets, visiting the veterinarian only once a year is not sufficient. Senior animals should be evaluated at least every 6 months for changes in health status. Senior vet visits will include a more in-depth evaluation to screen for diseases that are likely to develop in older animals. A number of diagnostic tests are likely to be performed that will give our team a better picture of your pet’s health:
- Bloodwork: A complete blood count and blood chemistry provides information about how well the various organs are working. Particular attention will be given to parameters that indicate inflammation, kidney failure, liver disease, and diabetes.
- Urinalysis: Evaluating the components of your pet’s urine provides further data about kidney function.
- Fecal analysis: Analysis of your pet’s feces will check for a number of parasites that can easily be picked up from the environment. Although a fecal analysis has likely been performed during previous routine health checks, it is even more important for senior pets, who often have weaker immune systems.
- ECG: An electrocardiogram displays the electrical activity of the heart in graphic form, catching abnormalities, such as arrhythmias, heart enlargement, and cardiac dysfunction. If an abnormal ECG reading is obtained, an echocardiogram is often needed to further evaluate heart structure and function.
- Chest radiographs: Chest X-rays will allow the heart and lungs to be analyzed. Heart enlargement, fluid accumulation, lung masses, and many other abnormalities can be detected.
The earlier disease is detected, the earlier we can begin treatment to slow its progression, improve your pet’s quality of life, and possibly give you more time with your beloved companion. Without regular preventive care, diseases are often not diagnosed until long after the disease is advanced and pets begin to show clinical signs. At this point, treatment is usually more difficult, more expensive, and less effective.
Many diseases that affect senior pets, like arthritis, dental disease, and cancer, cause pain. To help your pet maintain a good quality of life, pain management is critical.
There are many anti-inflammatory and analgesic medications available that can help us manage pain and inflammation. After performing a complete pan assessment, we can tailor a treatment plan that will fit your pet’s individual needs. In addition to medications, there are many alternative treatments, such as acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation, laser therapy, supplements, and ice/heat therapy, that can keep pets comfortable. Rehabilitation may even be used to increase mobility and activity level.
Changes to your pet’s lifestyle may also be necessary as she ages. Older pets may not be able to hold urine and feces for as long as they used to, and may need more frequent bathroom breaks. This may mean that your pet can no longer be left for an entire workday without being let outside to relieve herself.
Walking up and down stairs often becomes difficult for elderly pets, so litter boxes, bedding, and food bowls should be moved to the main floor of the house to minimize the need for them to use the stairs.
Senior pets can be expected to sleep more and should be provided with a soft, supportive bed to soothe aching joints.
Has your senior pet visited our office lately? Call us at 303-680-5050 to schedule your pet’s next preventive care visit.