by Rachel Williams, DVM
Aging happens to us all. As pet parents we have also signed on to shepherd our furry ones through their twilight years. Just as our own aging brings challenges and opportunities, so does that of our pets. It is helpful to understand the signs of illness in an older pet, so that treatment is not delayed by mistaking a medical problem for a normal sign of aging. Age itself is not a disease and diseases are much easier to treat or manage if diagnosed at an early stage. No care taker wants his or her pet to suffer if it could have been prevented or limited.
So what might you notice as your pet ages? When dogs and cats get older, their interests may change. They tend to sleep more and to become a bit less curious about their surroundings. However, a sudden change in activity level indicates a problem. Some disease related changes are more gradual or subtle. It can be easy to think that a pet having accidents in the house is “just getting old,” but accidents may be caused by a urinary tract infection, diabetes, or cognitive dysfunction-all of which can be treated. Below are some common symptoms in older pets; if you see any of these symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your vet:
-Changes in weight (loss or gain)
-Increased thirst or urination
-Increased or decreased appetite
-Difficulty with urination
-Changes in litter box use/accidents in the house when a pet was previously potty trained
-Lumps on or under the skin
Even if your pet is not experiencing one of these specific problems, you know your pet best. Any change that gets your attention is a reason to visit your vet for an examination and to discuss the concern.
Senior pets (generally defined as pets over 7 years old) require more care and attention than they did when they were younger. Grooming, brushing, and petting can aid in finding lumps, skin problems, and changes in weight or muscle mass. Providing soft bedding and resting areas will help to keep your dog or cat comfortable if aging leads to arthritis or decreased muscle and fat. Keeping your pet at a healthy weight with proper diet and appropriate exercise will certainly lead to a better quality of life and may even extend life significantly. Encouraging a bit of low impact activity every day will help maintain muscle tone, as well as mobility. Finally, senior dogs and cats should visit the veterinarian for wellness checkups at least every 6 months. Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination to check for problems with the heart, lungs, oral cavity (teeth, gums, tongue, etc.), joints, skin, eyes, ears, and the nervous system. Blood, urine, and stool samples may be analyzed to look for problems with your pet’s organs, such as the thyroid, liver, and kidneys. It is important to share your home observations with your vet. It is also important to ask questions if it is not completely clear what is being recommended for your pet, what tests are being performed, what the results show, what treatment or treatment options are recommended and when to follow up.
While it can be difficult to see your dog or cat age, it is such a joy to have a senior companion. Older pets are smart (it is great to teach new tricks or modify games to lower impact versions like teaching your pup to wait until the ball has landed before going after it), affectionate (the kitty who was too busy playing to snuggle may spend hours on your soft, warm lap), and loyal. With just a bit of extra care, attention, and understanding your pet can remain happy and comfortable in the golden years.
Dr. Rachel Williams is an associate veterinarian at Briarcliff Animal Clinic. Dr. Williams can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 404-874-6393.