Pets age more quickly than we do, and are considered seniors around the age of 7 years. Large breed dogs are considered senior at the age of 5. As pets age their needs change and, just like their human family members, they may need an adjustment in diet and require more visits to their Veterinarian.
Cats can live to be around 20 years of age or more if well cared for and are regularly seen by a veterinarian. The average age expectancy of dogs can range from 6-15 years depending on the breed. Smaller breed dogs generally tend to have longer lives then their large breed counterparts. Many issues are common in both dogs and cats as they age
Common diseases in both species are obesity, kidney and heart disease, diabetes, arthritis. Cats can also suffer from hyperthyroidism and dogs can suffer from hypothyroidism, eye problems, and some cognitive disorders.
Obesity unfortunately is a common disease in all animals; it becomes a more serious disease as pet’s age. The extra weight makes it hard on their joints and can cause arthritic changes, matting may occur as the animals are unable to reach and groom certain areas. Excessive weight may also lead to diabetes or bladder stones. To prevent obesity, you can lower caloric count and increase exercise.
It can be hard to get a cat to exercise especially if they are carrying extra weight. Some cats can be exercised using a laser pointer, toys or even simply changing the location of the food bowl every couple of days. Whereas dogs are a little easier to exercise, but depending on their ability to get around their exercise program may need to be modified.
When lowering a pets’ caloric intake, the biggest challenge is knowing what to feed your pet and how much. When you feed an obese pet you should feed per the recommendation on the bag for the weight they should be, not the weight they are. If unsure what your pet should weigh ask your veterinarian? If your pet does not already have a medical condition requiring it to eat certain type of food, your pet should most likely be on a commercially balanced senior food.
Kidney and Heart Disease
Kidney failure describes the inability of the kidneys to remove waste products from the blood. The kidneys may be thought of as blood filters. When aging causes the filtration process to become inefficient and ineffective, blood flow to the kidneys is increased in an attempt to increase filtration. This results in the production of more urine. The early clinical signs are increased water consumption and urination; while more advanced progression will include loss of appetite, depression, vomiting, diarrhea, and very bad breath or other oral health issues. In the final stages of the disease your pet may go into a coma. As a general rule, in most pets you cannot see outward signs of kidney damage until 75-80% of the kidneys are comprised.
The diagnosis of kidney failure is made by determining the level of two waste products in the blood: blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and blood creatinine. A urinalysis is also needed to complete the study of kidney function. Although BUN and creatinine levels reflect kidney failure, they do not predict it. A pet with marginal kidney function may have normal blood tests. If a pet is stressed with major illness or surgery, the kidneys may fail, sending the blood test values up quickly. Treatment varies for each pet and each situation so speak to your veterinarian.
It is recommended for senior pets that during their annual exams they have an ERD (Early Renal Detection) test, performed through a urine sample. During an annual exam your veterinarian may also recommend blood work or x-rays. If your pet shows any sign of renal (kidney) disease your veterinarian may recommend further testing such as a complete urinalysis to determine if your pet is losing protein or glucose through their urine. Your veterinarian may also recommend referral to another clinic for ultrasound, medications or a change in diet and/or home care with subcutaneous fluids.
Approximately 10% of dogs will develop some form of heart disease. 80% of the heart disease seen in dogs is mitral valve insufficiency. The earliest sign of a leaking mitral valve is normally a heart murmur. A heart murmur does not mean that heart failure is imminent. But as time goes on, the leak becomes more severe and more and more blood flows backward. This results in reduced pumping efficiency and eventually in congestive heart failure. When the heart is not properly pumping blood, the blood moves more slowly through the lungs. This results in small amounts of fluid leaking out of the capillaries into the air passageways. This fluid collection produces the earliest sign of heart failure – gagging as if trying to clear the throat, a chronic, hacking cough, and lack of stamina. Talk to your veterinarian about the best plan for your pet.
Diabetes is a common disease in older pets due to lack of insulin being produced by the pancreas. This causes an increase in the level of glucose in the blood. Contributing factors to a pet developing diabetes include being overweight, over eight years old, and breed susceptibility (such as Burmese cats, or Labrador Retriever, Old English Sheepdog, Poodles dogs). Some common warning signs of diabetes include: increases thirst, increased urination, weight loss, lack of appetite, lack of energy and vomiting. Make sure your diabetic pet gets lots of exercise, an appropriate feeding plan and insulin medication if required. These steps will all increase the quality of life for your diabetic pet. Treatment of diabetes is not overly expensive, but your pet will require monitoring of their blood glucose levels to regulate their insulin dose. Once your pet is regulated they will require follow up testing every few months to make sure the insulin dose in still correct for them.
Arthritis is a condition involving inflammation of one or more joints. Arthritis in cats, just like people, is characterized by stiffness, limping or favouring a limb, especially after waking or lying in one spot for a long time. Arthritis, while it cannot be cured can be managed in many ways – nutritionally or medically.
While there are many contributing factors of arthritis in dogs, the degree of arthritis is frequently relative to the age of the animal. The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA) which is also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD). Some common causes of arthritis include hip dysplasia, obesity, and cruciate ligament rupture.
As a general rule a combination of nutritional and medical management is usually used to help control the symptoms of arthritis in pets. There are now joint diets for both cats and dogs: foods which contain glucosamines, chrondtin, antioxidants and omega 3 and 6 that help lubricate the joints, making it easier for the pets to move. Medically, the use of NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) on a daily or as-needed basis can be effective. Before starting an NSAID program your veterinarian will require your pet to have blood work to ensure that their liver and kidneys are functioning correctly as most NSAIDS are metabolized through these organs. With long-term NSAID use regular blood work will be required. It is important to select these medications with care since some pets are more sensitive than others to the potential side effects of analgesics. There is also the option of using steroid injections such as Adequan or Cartophen which at first need to be injected weekly and will require maintenance doses throughout the life of the pet. Best to contact your veterinarian to discuss what is best for your pet.
Hyperthyroidism is currently recognized as the most common endocrine disorder in cats. Hyperthyroidism is a condition associated with independent release of thyroid hormones by abnormal thyroid tissue. Treatment for hyperthyroidism is available in a 3 forms: medical, radioactive, or surgical treatment. Medical treatment comes in either a tablet given by mouth daily or cream that is rubbed into the ear daily. This is generally the most cost effective form of treatment and does not require referral. It does require blood tests periodically to make sure that the thyroid hormone levels are stable.
Hypothyroidism refers to a deficiency of the thyroid hormone resulting in a hormone imbalance. Symptoms may include skin problems, hair loss, brittle or dry coats, obesity, lethargy and anemia. To determine if your dog has hypothyroidism blood tests must be performed. If your pet is determined to be hypothyroid then it will need to be on medication for life and require blood tests on a regular basis.
Canine Cognitive Dysfunction occurs as a dog ages. Your pet may display house-training problems (dogs previously house trained now have accidents or wanting to go out at odd times), apparent memory loss, disorientation, confusion, staring, wandering, getting stuck in corners, sleep disturbances (waking at the wrong time, sleeping unusually deeply, night pacing), restlessness, barking, separation anxiety, panting, drooling, obsessive licking, etc. Progression of clinical signs is very gradual; most owners fail to recognize the early stages. As well these can be symptomatic of other diseases, which need to be ruled out before beginning treatment for Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. Treatment can be medical, dietary, or environmental. Medication can be used in dogs by prolonging dopamine production which is thought to reduce the amount of free radicals in the brain. Dietary changes can also help. Therapeutic diets (such as Prescription B/D) that contain antioxidants (mixed tocopherols, vitamin C, beta-carotene, carotenoids, and flavonoids), mitochondrial cofactors, and omega-3 fatty acids (EPA, DHA) may be recommended. Environmental treatments include stimulating your pet and teach them new things it helps keep the brain active. Teaching certain hand signals this may help if your dog goes deaf (which is common in the aging process), as well stimulating through touch to help to guide your dog in case of blindness. In most cases a veterinarian will incorporate all 2-3 types of treatment for you dog to aid in the treatment of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction.
Eye problems in senior pets may include cataracts, glaucoma and blindness. Any apparent change in your dog’s ability to see should be investigated. If caught early enough many eye problems can be treated or corrected, avoiding discomfort and pain for the pet, as well decreasing the chance of resulting blindness.