New Pets Series: Aging Pet Needs


Dr. Amy Starr

New Pets Series: Aging Pet Needs

Continuing on with our New Pet Series, I wanted to touch base on when your pet needs as it ages. Many of you may rescue or purchase older pets and they are new to your family, or maybe you have a pet that has been with you for years and you have watched it grow old over the years. Regardless, it is important to be aware that you older pet has special needs, just as we have special needs as we enter our “senior years”.

Because a pet ages faster than humans, we consider dogs and cats to be entering their senior years by 6 or 7 years old. At this time it is necessary to consider several issues we may have never thought of before: arthritis, dietary needs, organ function, dental health, and cancer. All of these are commonly present in our geriatric patients.

Arthritis is common in any species as it ages. For our smaller patients, we can offer soft padded bedding, heating pads or warm areas to sleep. For our equine patients, it is important to protect them more from the cold, keep them in stalls and provide shavings for their bedding. Moderate, routine exercise helps keep the joints lubricated and helps get medication into the joint fluid, so short daily walks are important for all animals. Glucosamine supplements like Dasuquin for dogs, and Cosequin for horses if very helpful in reducing discomfort and slowing the progression of arthritis. Radiographs of sore limbs and joints help us to determine the exact location and the extent of the arthritis, so that as doctors we can better advice and treat your pet. And, in some instances, arthritis medications are needed to alleviate the discomfort and pain. Your veterinarian can help you decide when this is needed.

Dietary needs often change in our geriatric pets. They need food with less fat, easily digested proteins, and high levels of vitamins and anti-oxidants. You want to choose a high quality food like Science Diet Senior or Royal Canin. Some older pets may need specific prescription diets to help with their health issues as they age. There is even a wonderful diet for canine cognitive disorder (Alzheimer’s-like syndrome in dogs).

Another issue to be concerned of in older pets, is the potential of ailing organ function. Often as they age, certain organs such as the liver, kidneys, thyroid, pancreas, or heart begin to function less efficiently, and we need to help it with medications. It is always best to know this early, so that it can be managed appropriately, rather than wait until it become such a severe problem that treatment is no longer an option.

Just as in humans, the saying, “a healthy mouth leads to a healthy body” is very true. In both small animals and large animals, dental health is vital to maintaining the overall health of the body. I relate it to a car. If you let your car’s tires run out of air, you can always fill up the tires with air again and be running just fine. But if you let your car’s engine run out of oil, you will damage the engine beyond the point of repair. The same goes with an animal’s teeth. If you let the dental health go ignored long enough, there can be permanent damage to both the teeth and the body’s organs that potentially goes beyond the point of repair. It is essential to maintain the dental health of our pets.

And lastly, cancer is a frequent problem in older pets. The earlier we diagnose it, the better we can deal with it. Early detection from physical exams, blood work, and X-rays, are vital to prevent your pet from worsening. Many types of cancer can be managed or treated if caught early.

So, in summary, just as in humans, as a pet ages, health issues become more common. It is important to care for our aging animal family so that we may prolong their life and live many happy years with them! If you have any questions, or to book your pet’s senior exam, contact one of our clinics!

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