Village Vets Australia

Caring for Senior Pets: Your Questions Answered

Do you have an ageing pet? The Village Vets share their expert advice and dispel some common myths surrounding the care of beloved older animals. 

As veterinary medicine and pet nutrition advances, we are starting to see our cats and dogs living to a much older age. It’s wonderful being able to have more time with our beloved pets, but just like humans, as they age pets undergo certain health and behaviour changes. Some of these changes are normal, however some changes are not. This article aims to address some frequently asked questions and dispel some myths surrounding caring for your senior pets.

Q. How old is my cat or dog in human years?

A. There are some excellent charts available, such as the one below from Hills Pet Nutrition, that can give you some indication of how old your dog or cat is in human years. Some people are often quite shocked when we tell them that their 6 year old large breed dog is considered to be in the senior age range!

It is important to realise that just like older people, cats and dogs in the senior age range have different dietary requirements and are more likely to suffer from certain diseases. This is why your older pet requires more frequent trips to the veterinarian.

Q. How often should my senior pet be visiting the veterinarian?

A. If you take a glance at that age chart, you can see that one human year for your senior dog or cat could equal a whole decade in their years. Imagine not going to the doctor for a decade! This is why we recommend that senior pets visit their local veterinarian at least twice a year. Your veterinarian will should take a thorough history and perform a complete physical examination, and from this may recommend further tests or medications. In fact, many veterinarians now offer “senior health checks” which are targeted specifically to pick up problems we may see in older pets.

Some things that your veterinarian might suggest include:
• Blood and urinary tests
• Blood pressure monitoring
• ECG to assess your pet’s heart
• Imaging – radiographs or ultrasound
• Osteoarthritis medication
• Dental scale and polish or tooth extractions

Q. Can pets get Arthritis too? 

A. Osteoarthritis, or degeneration of the joint cartilage and bone, is one of the most common condition that affects geriatric people, cats and dogs. In fact, in North America 1 in 5 adult dogs has osteoarthritis, with 4 in 5 geriatric dogs also suffering from osteoarthritis ! Although osteoarthritis is a normal part of the age process, it still causes your pet a lot of pain. Luckily, there are a lots of different options available to help manage your pet’s osteoarthritis and make them more comfortable.
Some of the many signs of osteoarthritis in your dog include lameness or limping, difficultly running, jumping or climbing stairs, slow or stiff when rising, sore to the touch and even yelping or whimpering.

Cats are a bit trickier as they tend to hide their pain quite well. Sometimes all that owners will notice is a change in behaviour, such as the cat stops sleeping in his or her favourite spot on the bed or lies in the sun all day.

If you suspect your pet may have signs of osteoarthritis, you should take them to visit your local veterinarian. There are lots of different medications, lifestyle changes and even “nutraceuticals” (special dietary supplements) that your pet can have to help make him or her more comfortable!

Q. Do older pets need extra dental care? 

A. As your dog or cat gets older, the normal mechanisms that keep their teeth shiny and clean start to become less effective. This is why some pets who have never required any dentistry in the past may require a dental scale and polish, or even tooth extractions as they age. People are often reluctant to have their older pet’s teeth cleaned they are concerned about the anaesthetic risk. Luckily, with advances in testing and anaesthetic monitoring, we are able to much better manage anaesthetic risk in our older patients. It may mean that your pet requires a blood test or a drip during the procedure but people often comment that their older pet seems so much happier and even younger once we have performed a dental or extracted that painful, wiggly tooth.

Q. Is kidney failure more common in older cats? What can I do to help prevent it? 

A. Kidneys help filter toxins out of the blood, manage blood pressure and even make important hormones. Kidney failure is unfortunately one of the most common diseases that can affect older cats, and if left untreated can be very painful and lead to lots of other health problems. There are many signs that can indicate your cat may be suffering from kidney disease. Drinking a lot, loss of condition, change in appetite and loss of weight are all potential signs of kidney disease.  If your cat displays any of these signs you should take him or her straight to your local veterinarian. Luckily cats with diagnosed kidney failure can live for years with the right diet and medication.

Q. What should my senior pet be eating?

A. As pets age their nutritional requirements change, but luckily most reputable brands of pet food have a senior range. These will usually indicate what age and above your cat or dog should be eating that diet. Make sure if you do change your pet’s diet that you transition them slowly over a period of one to two weeks. There are also some excellent prescription diets available for pets who suffer from certain age-related illness, such as foods for osteoarthritis and joint disease, and even food for pets suffering from dementia! Please don’t hesitate to contact your local veterinarian to discuss what option might be best for your pet.

As you can see, there are a lots of things that you can do to help make your senior pet more comfortable in their old age, and even live longer! If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact us or your local veterinarian for more information.

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