Pets are living longer due to advances in veterinary care, diagnostics, and earlier intervention. Even so the key to enjoying our “older” pets lies not only in increasing their life span, but also in helping them enjoy their later years to the fullest. Just like people, cats and dogs can be vulnerable to incapacitating health conditions as they grow older. Kidney failure, heart disease, arthritis, oral disease, malignant tumors, and cognitive dysfunction can take place through the typical maturing process. In earlier times, simply because quite a few health conditions weren’t recognized until the pet was in the advanced stages, veterinarians could do nothing more than make a pet’s golden years a tad bit more comfortable by caring for the symptoms of age-related health issues. If the pet was lucky, the issues could advance slowly. Most pet owners merely accepted the fact that their four-legged buddies were only able to survive a relatively brief life, get old, and pass on. Yet breakthroughs in technical advancements in modern day veterinary medicine, surgery, diagnostics and nutrition, not only do pets survive longer but their quality of life has increased enormously as well.
One example follows human medicine in the development and use of the new generation of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs.Because our older pets often develop arthritis and joint disease, these newer drugs help alleviate the aches and pains of many senior pets while keeping unwanted side effects to a minimum. Chondroitin and glucosamine supplements also seem to help older dogs with their arthritis. Advanced veterinary technology includes MRI’s, cat scans, radiation treatments, chemotherapy, advanced surgery with laser scalpels, laparoscopy, hip replacements, orthodontics, root canals, crowns, and much more. Physical therapy, water treadmills and even acupuncture can help pets recover from surgeries and gain their mobility quicker. More and more veterinarians are pursuing specialty practices to address the needs of those pets whose owners want the best treatment available.
Several age related problems will still be viewed as unavoidable, however the attitudes of both veterinarians and pet owners have changed. The belief now is the fact that “age is not a disease”, and veterinary medicine is adding greater emphasis on senior pet health through preventative health plans.
The sooner we can detect a problem, the more likely we can manage or even correct the problem. Lumps and bumps if surgically removed when they are small may prevent the tumors from spreading throughout the body. Advances in oncology now makes chemotherapy and radiation therapy almost a normal course of treatment for pets that do have cancer. By addressing dental disease early on, you can extend your pet’s life span by nearly 3 years. Diabetes can be managed with insulin and special diets and heart disease also has newer medications available to help the heart pump better. Cats with renal failure can benefit by many of the newer drugs released and fluid therapy to help them reduce the build up toxins that their kidneys can no longer flush out. There are even drugs that can help with cognitive dysfunction in dogs. These dogs seem to get “lost” or whine for no reason. There are specialists that can even remove cataracts so your pet won’t go blind.
At what age is a pet considered a senior? Generally, smaller breeds of dogs live longer than larger breeds, and cats live longer than dogs. Life spans vary with individuals, and pets, like people, grow older at different rates, some more gracefully than others. A few smaller breeds of dogs, like Bones, are considered geriatric at fifteen. Large and giant breeds like Labrador retrievers and rottweilers are considered seniors as soon as seven years old. Cats, especially if they are kept in the house, frequently live to their early twenties and do not attain their golden years until their teens.
The single most crucial way a pet owner can take to keep their pet happy and healthy as long as possible is to pencil in regular veterinary exams. As pets age, these exams tend to be more critical than ever, because as with people, quick detection is essential for disease and problem intervention. Younger pets need routine examinations once or twice yearly. However as dogs and cats approach middle age, these exams should be much more frequent because each year in a pet’s life is equivalent to 5-7 people years.
To detect potential health problems earlier,veterinarians recommend routine lab work, electrocardiograms, blood pressure monitoring, and x-rays to detect early conditions like thyroid, kidney, heart, and liver disease. With early detection, pets with organ function conditions can be treated with prescription medication along with specific doctor prescribed quality diets that not only prolong their life span but the quality of their lives. Sometimes, health conditions could even be reversed.
In general, quite a few early warning signs that your family pet might be having a problem are:
* drinking more water than usual and urination
* urinary incontinence or having mishaps in the house
* recurring throwing up
* terrible breath, drooling or difficulty eating
* excessive panting or tires more quickly when exercised
* lumps, bumps, nodules or alterations in areas of skin color, bumps that bleed or are ulcerated
* change in appetite – ingesting more or less than normal
* changes in behavior for example “spacing out” or increased whining
* abnormal bowel habits – diarrhea or constipation
* fluctuations in body weight – gaining or reducing weight
Watch pets closely and convey any abnormal behavioral or physical problems to your veterinarian without delay. Veterinarians also recommend purchasing pet insurance so that if problems are detected in your pet, you will be able to afford the advanced therapies that are available. Talk with your veterinarian and develop a specific senior wellness strategy for your pet’s special needs so that your precious pooch or kitty can enjoy getting old gracefully.
Dr. Debra Garrison is a small animal veterinarian. Her primary practice is the Treaschwig Veterinary Clinic in Spring, Texas.. Learn more about senior pet care at Senior Pet Care