Thursday, September 27, 2012
Pet Smarts: Dogs, cats require careful attention and care in ‘senior’ stage of life
By Sachiko Miyakawa, DVM
Sheabel Pet Care Center
As pet owners, it can be difficult to see our dogs and cats in their ‘senior’ stage of life. They are less active, have more grey hair, take longer naps, and are slower in getting around. Older pets may appear to be easier to take care of since they are potty-trained and know the day to day routine. However, senior pets actually require a lot of attention and care because they are more prone to developing diseases. Here is a simple guideline to promote longevity and to improve the quality of life of senior dogs and cats.
(Photo from Creative Commons)
Get a thorough veterinary exam: Your veterinarian will recommend blood work to check kidney, liver, pancreas, and thyroid function. A chest x-ray is also recommended to ensure that the heart is at normal size and that the lungs are free of masses. If your pet has difficulty getting up or appears slower in moving around, an x-ray will help identify signs of arthritis or inflammation of the joints. There are many treatment options for arthritis, including joint supplements, medications that help reduce inflammation and relieve pain, stem cell therapy, class IV laser therapy and acupuncture. Cloudy eyes and hearing loss can also cause a pet to be less mobile and appear ‘slower’. The best remedy for gradual sensory reduction is to keep your pet active; playing and training are excellent ways to keep their senses sharp.
Cats are better at hiding health issues, so biannual exams by your veterinarian are vital. A thorough exam including complete blood work, a dental cleaning, and heart scan will help determine more serious problems.
Encourage pets to move and play: It’s important for older pets to move around to help maintain a healthy body condition. Senior pets are less active so they are prone to gaining weight. This can exacerbate their joint issues, so make sure you monitor their caloric intake. It’s equally important to keep pets mentally stimulated. Continue taking them on walks outside, play with their toys, and even teach them new tricks. Pets will age quicker if they just sleep all day.
Check your pet’s teeth: Without regular brushing, pets will get tartar buildup and gingivitis. Gum disease can lead to serious health issues because bacteria travel from a dog or cat’s mouth to its heart, kidneys, and liver. Dogs and cats require regular, professional teeth cleaning just like humans. Dental disease is one of the most common conditions observed in senior pets. With severe dental disease, pets have difficulty eating due to pain inside their mouth. Your pet’s teeth need to be checked if you notice that they are gradually losing weight.
Watch what you feed: Obesity is common in older pets because they are overfed by their owners and are not exercised properly. Older pets benefit from foods that are low-fat, contain high quality proteins and have supplements like glucosamine for joint health. Softer food may be preferable for older pets as their teeth and jaw strength may be diminished.
Noticing any subtle behavior and physical changes in your senior pet can help detect diseases early and delay the progression of common conditions. We want to make sure your pet lives comfortably during the senior life stage so it’s critical to work with your veterinarian to tailor a senior wellness plan that is best for your dog or cat.
Dr. Sachiko Miyakawa is a veterinarian at Sheabel Pet Care Center in Lexington. She graduated from University of Kentucky in 2004 and continued on to Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine. For more information, visit sheabelpets.com.