Senior pet health: Caring for your aging pet

We all wish our best furry friends will live forever (or at least as long as we do). However, dogs and cats age more quickly than humans, and by the age of 7, they’re considered middle-aged. When your pet starts to come up on AARP age, their health needs change. But with proper healthcare, diet, and exercise, there’s no reason your kitty or pup can’t reach the golden years – and maybe even reach the triple-digits!

“As pets reach their senior years, like humans, they become more susceptible to various common ailments such as heart problems, cancer, diabetes, thyroid abnormalities, and kidney disease,” says Dr. Barrett Mann. “All of these issues are best treated as early in the disease process as possible, and this is where more frequent examinations (minimum of twice a year) and diagnostic testing (blood work and possible radiographs) become so important.”

Robust healthcare for senior pets
Geriatric pets – those older than age 7, or age 6 for dogs over 50 pounds – should receive:

1. Twice yearly wellness exams.
Wellness visits include a thorough evaluation of your pet’s medical history, health risk screenings, senior pet health education, and referrals to specialty care (if needed). When we examine older pets, we look for common issues such as infected teeth, cataracts, heart murmurs, or tumors.

2. A health risk screen
There are a lot of critical values that need to be checked, including blood sugar, thyroid hormone, and kidney function. Fortunately, there are easy tests to give us important answers, including bloodwork and urinalysis.

3. A nutritional consult
Geriatric pets often need more easily digestible food, with different calorie levels and ingredients than their previous foods. Some pets need to adjust their protein intake or get more fiber.

Routine items become more important in senior years
Things that you (hopefully) already do for your pet become even more important as they get older. That includes:

  • Regular vaccinations: We’ll go over recommended and required vaccinations when you come in for wellness exams. It’s always important to evaluate a pet’s health and lifestyle when choosing which vaccines to give or not give.
  • Following recommended diet: Once you get our dietary recommendations, be sure to follow them closely.
  • Parasite control: As your pets get older, fighting off fleas, ticks, heartworms, and other parasites becomes ever more important. Don’t compromise their systems further with avoidable problems.
  • Weight control and exercise: Weight gain in older dogs and weight loss in older cats is common. With a good diet and regular exercise, you can keep your pet at an ideal weight and avoid the risks associated with weight fluctuation. A cat that rapidly loses weight may develop liver disease. Dogs and cats that gain too much weight exacerbate their arthritis and heart disease.
  • Regular dental exams: “Dental disease is another problem that is observed in a majority of senior pets,” Dr. Mann says. “More frequent oral exams and regular cleanings will typically extend both the quality and quantity of pets’ lives. By intervening on the aforementioned issues before they become severe, we can be assured that this proactive approach will help avoid discomfort and maximize our time with our best friends.”
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