Geriatric Pet Health

Due to the importance of this issue, we are re running this great article on caring for your elderly pet.

Toilet training older dog

This month we are dealing with geriatric and senior pets

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Due to the improved health care that we give our pets, the population of healthy senior pets has dramatically increased over the past fifty years. Pets are no longer as susceptible to viral illnesses because most pets in first world countries are well vaccinated.  Better foods specifically geared at senior pets are available on the market today. These food help to keep their internal organs healthy as well as many now containing joint supplements to help arthritic joints.  In fact the senior pet population is healthier than ever before!

A pet is defined as a senior pet from about the age of seven or eight years. Small breeds age more slowly and live longer than large breeds.  A giant breed such as a  Great Dane cannot expect to live more than twelve years,  whereas most terriers easily live up to seventeen years of age. Cat also live an average of eighteen years but I have seen some as old as twenty two years of age.

An age calculator for small, medium and large dog breeds

Most people don’t notice their pets getting older as this occurs so gradually. As pets age, their internal organs and joints age with them, as with humans. The senior pet will begin to show signs of early arthritis, such as the inability to jump onto the bed or couch, or a stiffness when he/she gets up in the morning.

The senior pet may also begin to show signs of organ dysfunction or insufficiency, for example if their kidneys age and lose the ability to concentrate their urine properly, they will have to drink a lot more to compensate and their urine volume will also increase. Overnight ‘accidents’ due to an overfull bladder may become more common.

Caring for your senior pet properly will extend his life and give him a better quality of life overall. There are many simple things that can be done.

Feeding the correct food is vital. Senior food has lower protein and phosphate to help prevent kidney disease. It also has lower salt to help old age hearts and animals with high blood pressure. As previously mentioned, many foods for senior pets contain joint supplements which help to slow down cartilage degeneration and ease arthritis.

feeding food for older pets

Older pets have different nutritional requirements

Regular annual check ups. Now is the time to make sure you keep that yearly appointment with your veterinarian and take your pet for his annual check up. Your vet will listen to his heart and lungs, checking for heart murmurs and early signs of heart or lung problems. Any lumps or bumps that he has developed can be checked for  potential cancerous changes.  A full dental examination will be done as older pets tend to develop bad teeth. Your vet will also discuss your pet’s habits with you, such as any changes in appetite or water consumption, and any changes in behavior that could indicate pain or an internal problem.  If any problems are picked up, they can be dealt with quickly, before the disease process has become too advanced to treat.

Teeth Cleaning and dental work.

Extremely rotten teeth in a dog’s mouth

Most people don’t look at their dog’s back  teeth regularly. Over time, plaque and tartar build up just like in people, and this leads to tooth decay, infection and loss of teeth.  Regular scaling of your dogs teeth is essential to keep them healthy and in most cases, only needs to be done once a year. Teeth scaling removes all that nasty build up, revealing shiny white, healthy teeth underneath. Any teeth that are too rotten to leave in, can be extracted at the same time.  Teeth scaling is done under general anaesthetic, however so once your pet is past the age of fifteen years, it may be too risky to undertake.  Also remember, when any senior pet has an anaesthetic, it is a good idea to have a quick pre-anaesthetic blood test done to check it will be safe for him to have one.

Arthritis check ups. Pets get arthritis too. Some pets are born with joint diseases such as hip dysplasia (common in German Shepherd dogs and Labrador Retrievers) or OCD (Osteochondritis Dessicans, also common in large breed, rapidly growing dogs).  Other pets develop arthritis due to injuries that have occurred throughout their lives and in many cases arthritis develops due to simple wear and tear of aging joints.  Early arthritis shows itself merely as stiffness after exercise or in getting up in the morning. Later on, your pet may become lame in one of it’s legs or show difficulty is getting up at all and may need help just to go outside to go to the toilet. Luckily in the last fifteen years, the pharmaceutical industry has brought many products out on the market that help your pet deal with arthritis. Joint supplements containing chondroitin and glucosamine are being given to both people and pets. They help to slow down cartilage damage in the joints and also reduce inflammation and thus pain to a small extent. Many animals with early arthritis do fantastically on these supplements. Anti inflammatories specifically for dogs have been developed which are far gentler on the stomach than regular over the counter aspirin type anti inflammatories. They can thus be given on a daily basis if need be, to control pain and inflammation within the joints, thus greatly improving your pet’s quality of life.

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