Did you know that dogs and cats are considered to be Seniors on average at only seven years old? Unfortunately for pets, that means Senior as in elderly, not their particular education level! Obviously some of our toy breeds like a chihuahua have a much longer lifespan than say a great dane, but its a good rule of thumb that your pet is entering his/her “golden years” at some point between the age of 6-10 years. That’s because pets age much faster than humans.
Just like their owners, cats and dogs tend to have more medical complaints as they grow older. While many of our pets live by the same standard as humans, “You are only as old as you feel” as owners we need to be sure our pets get the support they need to continue to feel “young” as the years begin to tally.
While we know that particular breeds of dogs and cats are at higher risk for certain disease processes. Senior pets as a whole are at higher risk for developing a multitude of health problems such as:
- Dental disease
- Thyroid disease
- Kidney disease
- Bone disease
- Heart disease
- Skin disease
- Liver disease
- Cognitive dysfunction
It is also important to note that an animal’s immune system will weaken with age (just like people!) making him or her more susceptible to infection which can quickly escalate to a life threatening situation if not addressed soon enough.
We see problems like these in senior pets almost daily, and while all of the aforementioned maladies may not be “life-threatening” they certainly can reduce the quality of life for your beloved friend. That being said, there’s nothing more heart breaking than having to tell a client that their fur baby has a potentially terminal condition. With many of the disease processes mentioned above, early detection is key. Although we may not be able to “cure” a pet with cancer, or kidney disease, we can most certainly make some small adjustments to their lifestyle allowing for better quality of life, while also lengthening the days, months, and years of their lives.
The good news is that many of these health conditions can be treated or even prevented. You see, an important part of our job as veterinarians is to look for early signs of disease in your pet. It is obviously much better for your pet if we can catch disease before it develops into a stage where it may become untreatable.
One of the best ways to check for early signs of disease is by regularly visiting your veterinarian (at least twice a year as your pet reaches senior status). During these visits a veterinarian will have the opportunity to discuss any changes in behavior that may signal disease. For instance, if you find that Scruffy is occasionally having accidents in the house, and you also cannot seem to keep his water dish filled, this may indicate early signs of diabetes, or kidney disease. Or perhaps if Snowball keeps losing weight no matter how much she eats, this could also indicate an overactive thyroid. All of those concerns with Scruffy, and Snowball could be addressed by some basic diagnostics. Doing occasional bloodwork on your senior pet may even alert the veterinarian to a disease process before your pet is showing any outward clinical signs. Remember both cats and dogs (especially cats) are incredibly stoic, and we don’t always know when he or she is not feeling well. During your visit to SportsVet we are able to draw a small amount of blood during your visit and run an analysis before you even walk out the door. This allows us to address any concerns as soon as possible, or at the very least offer peace of mind for both you and your pet. Another benefit of running wellness bloodwork year after year is that we can compare previous results and track subtle changes that can be an indicator of a developing problem.
It is incredibly unfortunate that our furry counterparts are only able to spend a handful of years with us. This is a sentiment that I hear expressed on a daily basis. New medical developments continue to improve the health of humans, and as a result increase the estimated lifespan for us bipeds. As veterinarians and also researchers, we are likewise able to strive for new developments in animal health which in turn add months and even years to the average cat or dog lifespan. While most of us will outlive our pets, isn’t it important that we make sure they stay as “young” as possible for as long as we possibly can?