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Senior Pet Care

Dogs and cats enter their senior years around age 7, and often this can be the beginning of rapid yet subtle changes in health. Following information will help you understand the specific risks their senior pets face, what signs to watch for and how to determine the "true" age of their pets.

Did you know your pets' senior years start at age seven?

My pet's always been healthy. Why should I worry now that they're a little older?

  • Just like people, your cat's or dog's health will change as it ages. And because pets age faster than people, major health changes can happen quickly.
  • Especially for senior pets, early detection and treatment can help them live longer, healthier lives. Regular checkups can uncover hidden disease before it is clinically apparent.
  • Many infectious diseases show few signs during initial infection. As disease progresses and signs become visible, it may be harder for senior pets to fight infection.

What particular risks does my senior pet face?

  • Similar to people in their "golden years," senior pets have an increased risk of diabetes, heart and endocrine disease, and cancer. Because these diseases show few signs in early stages, preventive health care and routine blood work are very important.
  • Issues with mobility often affect pets as they become older. Arthritis or stiffness in the joints can be painful and lead to decreased exercise and activity levels, or make simple tasks like climbing stairs more difficult.
  • Pets with mobility issues often face additional risks associated with a medication for pain/inflammation (NSAIDs). Without monitoring, NSAIDs can affect the kidneys and liver over time. Regular blood work will ensure your pet stays healthy and pain free.
  • Also like aging people, senior pets have a greater risk of gaining excess weight because of changes in metabolism, exercise levels and more. As a pet's weight increases, so does their risk for developing heart and liver disease.

What can I do to help?

  • Schedule an annual wellness visit for your pet. Regular checkups can help your veterinarian detect disease sooner, even if your pet shows no signs of being sick.
  • Watch for changes in your pet's health. Tell your veterinarian immediately if you notice any changes in behavior, diet, exercise/activity level or mobility.
  • Help your pet live a healthy lifestyle. Nutrition and exercise can help your pet live longer and healthier, so make sure they eat right and play often.

COMMON MEDICAL CONDITIONS IN SENIOR PETS

Health category

Common diseases

Signs

If not treated

Dental

periodontal disease, gingivitis, cancer

bad breath, redness in gums, swollen gums, mass

heart disease, tooth loss, kidney and liver disorder, systemic infection, cancer progression

Liver

inflammatory, degenerative and cancerous liver disease

decreased appetite, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst/urination

hypoalbuminemia, lipid metabolism disturbance, anemia, bleeding disorders, liver failure

Kidney

kidney failure, kidney stones, kidney infection, kidney insufficiency

increased thirst/urination, decreased appetite, weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, back pain

progression to kidney failure, heart disease, electrolyte upsets, fluid balance disturbance, death

Heart and Lungs

cardiac disease, pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema

decreased stamina, coughing, difficulty breathing, weight loss, pot belly

progression to renal and liver disease, poor vascular profusion, eventual death

Joints

arthritis, hip dysplasia, back disease

lameness, reluctance to walk or exercise, decreased appetite, discomfort/pain

progressive disease, reduced mobility, neurologic deficits

Endocrine System

diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, hypoadrenocorticism, hyperadrenocorticism

noticeable weight change, increased appetite without weight gain, vomiting, increased water consumption, frequent urination, change in energy level, coat or skin problems

heart failure, kidney failure, secondary metabolic disease

Cancer

cancers of the skin, spleen, liver, lymphoid tissue, etc.

bleeding, lumps, irritated skin, identified mass, swollen lymph nodes, vomiting, diarrhea

can progress to organ failure or death

Ocular

cataracts, dry eye, glaucoma

grayish blue hue at the center of the eye; rubbing; pressing head against objects; swelling; redness; irritation; tearing

difficulty seeing, corneal ulceration, can progress to blindness, loss of eye

Gastrointestinal System

inflammatory bowel disease, pancreatitis, cancer, colitis

vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, fluid gain

further weight loss, disease will progress to potential death