We consider dogs and cats at approximately age seven to be geriatric or “seniors”. Many geriatric diseases and conditions commonly affect dogs and cats beginning at age seven or eight. Giant breed dogs tend to have a shorter life span and we expect to see geriatric diseases as early as five years of age in these dogs. Smaller breed dogs live longer than larger dogs and cats tend to live the longest.
WHAT CHANGES DO WE SEE IN OLDER PETS?
With good care at home and progressive veterinary medicine, pets are living longer lives, but the caring for elderly pets can be challenging if the pet owner is not aware of changes that happen normally in older cats and dogs . Many times we attribute to age behavioral changes like decreased interest in things, “grouchiness” and lowered activity, when in fact such changes can often be signs of pain or discomfort. Remember that old age is not a disease! Many older pets simply need an adjustment in their living environments, and/or the addition of inexpensive medications (most of which have few or no side effects). We can help put the spring back in your senior pet’s step, and bring back their enthusiasm for walks!
Physical concerns like arthritis may appear as: difficulty climbing stairs; difficulty jumping up; limping or stiffness (especially after lying down); decreased or increased activity in general; lowered enthusiasm for walks; changes in greeting behavior. There are so many supplements and safe medications available to us to treat your pet’s arthritis. Stiff and sore joints do not only affect dogs; many older cats benefit from arthritis treatment. If your cat has not jumped up the counter or bed in a while, he or she may be suffering from arthritis pain. We are fortunate to have the option of using Physical Therapy with our certified rehab practitioner (and head veterinary technician), Stephanie Ortel and Acupuncture with Dr. Stein.
You may also notice behavioral changes like: changes in sleeping habits; changes in comfort levels at night (may be due to visual changes, often easily alleviated by adding some night lights to your home); decreased responsiveness; circling or other repetitive movements; confusion; loss of house training and increased barking. These can be symptoms of senility, called Cognitive Dysfunction in dogs and cats. This too is relatively treatable with medication and behavior modification.
Specific Geriatric Diseases
Older pets are prone to other health issues, many of which are very treatable if diagnosed early enough! At home, you can watch for symptoms such as: increased thirst and/or increased urination; changes in appetite; changes in ability to chew or swallow and weight changes.
- Large breed dogs are prone to develop abdominal tumors and a screening ultrasound exam is a very accurate test to diagnose tumors early when they are small and treatable.
- Small and medium breed dogs commonly have cataracts and glaucoma. They also are prone to hormonal diseases and heart failure.
- Cats develop hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease very commonly.
- Frequent physical exams (every 6 months) and screening blood and urine tests and blood pressure checks can detect all of these diseases early, when then are most treatable.
- Midnight is a 13 year old Labrador who gave her family quite a scare after falling on the floor. She was very weak in the rear legs and also was limping on one of her front legs. Midnight was normally a very active senior dog who was not overweight and walked daily.
- During her regular physical exam, six months prior to her falling, her owners mentioned that she often did not like to sit and didn’t climb stairs as often. We noticed that she had a decreased range of motion of both hip joints and we prescribed a glucosamine and chondroitin and an essential fatty acid supplement. These supplements improved Midnight’s mobility for about six months.
- After her fall and onset of hind leg weakness, we discovered that she had back pain over her lumbar vertebrae. We prescribed the pain reliever gabapentin and after two weeks, her hind leg weakness was gone and her owners said that Midnight was acting like she was years younger. Midnight takes the gabapentin twice daily and her family says that she is now acting like a puppy again!
- There are three important messages in Midnight’s story for everyone who wants their large breed dog to live a happy, active, long life. Midnight is doing so well because SHE IS NOT OVERWEIGHT, SHE HAD REGULAR WALKS ALL OF HER LIFE and HER OWNERS BROUGHT HER IN FOR A PHYSICAL EXAM QUICKLY, AS SOON AS SHE WAS HAVING TROUBLE- THEY DID NOT WAIT!
- Thanks to her loving family and proper senior care, Midnight is full of energy and enjoying her senior years!