Your senior pet’s golden years

Regular veterinary checkups are essential in detecting diseases early. Early diagnosis and appropriate therapy may help your senior pets enjoy a healthy life for many more years to come.

Our beloved pets are living longer, healthier, and happier lives due to better veterinary care and improved diets. This means we have more time for walks, cuddles, and constant companionship with our pets. As our pets age, they have more medical needs just as senior people need more medical care. Let’s talk about the top five conditions of older pets.

1. Degenerative joint disease or osteoarthritis

As pets age, they will develop joint disease because of years of use or overuse, obesity, and injury. As pets develop osteoarthritis, they will slow down on walks, hesitate to jump or climb. When these symptoms occur suddenly, it is easy to detect, but when these symptoms occur slowly over time, it may not be so obvious. Many pet owners think it’s normal aging process so often it goes unnoticed until the pet becomes painful and starts to limp.

If you see your pets slowing down, have your veterinarian perform a complete physical exam. Your veterinarian will start with a thorough orthopedic exam and may recommend radiographs. If your pet is diagnosed with osteoarthritis, symptoms can be managed but not cured. Management will be geared towards pain relief, decreasing inflammation, and increasing mobility. Your veterinarian may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, joint supplements, pain medication, therapeutic diets and exercise program. In addition to traditional therapeutics, acupuncture and laser therapy might also be recommended.

2. Heart disease

Although heart disease can affect all ages, it is more common in older pets. Heart disease can be silent in the earlier stages, but in later stages, your pet can start to cough, breathe more rapidly and with more effort. If symptoms progress, it can lead to congestive heart failure which means there is fluid buildup in the lungs due to decreased heart function.

If you notice any symptoms of early heart disease, have your pet examined by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will start with chest X-rays. If there is evidence of heart chamber enlargement, your veterinarian may recommend echocardiogram (heart sonogram), ECG (electrocardiogram), blood pressure and blood tests.

Treatment will be determined by the results of the diagnostics tests. If your pet has heart enlargement, rhythm abnormalities, hypertension, or congestive heart failure, a combination of heart medication to help the heart muscles squeeze better, diuretic to remove fluid from the lungs, medication to reduce afterload of the heart, blood pressure medication and anti-arrhythmic drugs if needed.

Pet parents can monitor their pets at home for any coughing or increased resting respiratory rate (RR). If the RR is approaching 30 breaths per minute, immediately contact your veterinarian.

3. Cancer

As pets age, just like people, they are more prone to cancer. Early detection is the key here. Cancer detection starts with a thorough physical exam by your veterinarian every 6 months for senior pets. All body systems will need to be checked to look for signs of cancer. In additional to the physical exam, a blood test, X-rays, and ultrasound may be recommended.

4. Dental disease

Periodontal disease is very common in older pets. It is especially common in smaller dogs. Periodontal disease can cause pain and can affect your pet’s overall health. Your veterinarian will examine your pet’s mouth and may recommend a dental cleaning and dental X-rays. Many pet parents are concerned about anesthesia so they avoid dental cleanings. We understand that you are concerned; however, untreated dental infections and inflammation can harm your pet’s heart, liver, kidneys and cause chronic pain. The benefits of treating your pet’s dental disease usually outweighs the risk of anesthesia.

5. Cognitive dysfunction

As our pets get older, just like people, their mental capacity decreases. Pet owners may describe their pet’s cognitive dysfunction as “dementia”. Your pet may experience disorientation, decreased, or change in social interaction with your family, disruption of sleep and wake cycles, anxiety, restlessness, or house soiling.

If you notice any cognitive changes in your pet, contact your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will start with a thorough physical exam, neurologic exam, and blood tests to rule out other medical causes of your pet’s symptoms. Based on the exam and lab findings, your veterinarian may prescribe medication and supplements to help manage clinical signs.

Pet parents and your veterinarian are a pet’s advocates to help keep them healthy for as long as possible. Regular veterinary checkups are essential in detecting diseases early. Early diagnosis and appropriate therapy may help your senior pets enjoy a healthy life for many more years to come.

Let’s spring forward and schedule your senior pets’ annual checkup so they can have a healthier and happier 2021.

— By Sue Mace, Vetsavers

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