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Senior Wellness

Author: Nicole B. Fenner DVM

As I write this blog I glance over at my border collie Josie, and I realize she is seven years old. Wow! She’s considered a senior pet now. I feel like the last seven years have flown by incredibly fast. I don’t know about you, but I want my dogs to live forever. Pets become family members, and like human family members, they need increased attention, as they grow older.

Now one human year no longer equals “x” number of dog/cat years. Comparing pet years to human years is more complicated. Simple calculations may help with determining a pet’s stage of life, but other considerations need to be factored in like size of the animal and health care history.  Consistent check-ups can add years to a pet’s life.

Happily, advances in veterinary care allow pets to live longer than ever before. Like humans, pets have special health problems as a consequence of living longer. Many of the problems that affect geriatric pets are similar to problems seen in older people like cancer, heart disease, liver disease, kidney or urinary tract disease, arthritis, diabetes, and senility aka cognitive dysfunction. But the following veterinary recommendations will keep your “oldie but goodie” tagging along with your family well into the senior years:

• Physical exams done twice per year are essential. A veterinarian will check for abnormalities in a complete examination, which include dental health, weight issues, heart or lung anomalies, lymph node size and shape, and more.

• Blood work is recommended for all senior pets as well as any pet that is exhibiting clinical symptoms. Pet’s organs gradually deteriorate and lose their ability to function properly. Some of these signs include: weight loss, increased thirst, increased urination, vomiting/diarrhea, coughing, unusual behavior, and lethargy. Don’t wait until your pet shows signs before doing blood work. Animals are adept at hiding early symptoms of disease. It’s critical to identify problems early, so preventive healthcare measures can be instituted.

• Blood pressure measurement is important to check for hypertension (high blood pressure). High blood pressure is extremely taxing on organs like the kidneys, heart, and eyes, so monitoring this closely as your pet ages is vital.

• Diet change - Elderly pets need foods that are more readily digestible, have specialized caloric levels, unique ingredients, and anti-aging nutrients (i.e., antioxidants, fatty acids to reduce inflammation). Choosing the appropriate diet also helps with weight management. Obesity will wreak havoc on pets and increase the risk of health problems. On the other hand, weight loss can be a major sign of an underlying illness.

• Exercise is key! The value of keeping pets mobile through consistent, low impact exercise cannot be overestimated. Exercise will help keep them healthier, more mobile, and improve their quality of life.

• Mental health - Sadly, pets can show signs of senility or dementia, also known as cognitive dysfunction. Research shows similarities between the brains of older pets and humans with Alzheimer’s disease. Some signs of cognitive dysfunction include increased vocalization, disorientation, increased irritability, increased anxiety, house soiling, changes in sleep cycles, and increased wandering. There are recommendations and medications to help these pets relax and feel comfortable in their environment. Keep in mind increasing play and interactions with pets can help to manage this issue and slow its progression.

• Environmental modifications - Rugs/carpeting can allow for better traction on slick floors along with sleeping arrangements in areas of the house that avoid having to trek up and down stairs frequently. Orthopedic beds, stair steps to help get onto higher places, and raised feed and water bowls are some of the common adjustments made around the home for elderly pets.


I want to help Josie and all my pets keep looking and acting their finest into their golden years. I know that I need to have a proactive approach to their health needs. Talk to your veterinarian about how to care for your older pets and be prepared for age related health issues. Make sure to take trips to the vet, make diet changes, and perform any necessary alterations around the home to keep your pet comfortable. Age is not a disease. Making a few relatively simple changes, combined with early detection, can greatly improve your pet’s quality of life as well as overall lifespan. Talk to your veterinarian about what can be done for your aging four-legged family member.

 

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