Aging Pet FAQ
At what age should I consider my pet a senior?
The aging process varies between species and specific breeds as well as individuals. For example, giant breed dogs reach "old age" at 8 or 9 years, whereas cats may comfortably live into their late teens! As an arbitrary guide, owners should start to consider age-related issues at 6-8 years in dogs, and 10 years in cats.
What do I do with my overweight pet?
Older pets are apt to gain weight as the body's metabolism and the pet's activity level slow down; therefore, food consumption must be balanced with the activity level of the pet. Dr. Durkee can recommend appropriate exercise and a proper diet to meet their needs.
How often should I exercise my pet?
Regular exercise is important to maintain bone strength, muscle tone, and stamina. Taking daily walks and playing with your pet are excellent methods of promoting physical activity as well as enjoying their companionship. However, if your pet has difficulty standing up or walking, a degenerative joint disease, or arthritis, may be the problem. Arthritis is a common ailment, especially in older dogs, often impairing the ability to stand or walk.
How important is dental care even though my pet is old?
Very important! Tooth loss and gum diseases are more common as your pet gets older. Such problems may make eating painful for your pet. Tumors of the mouth and gums also are more likely to appear in an older pet. Your veterinarian will perform dental exams and cleanings as determined by the condition of your pet's teeth and will educate you on home dental care.
Should I groom my pet more often?
Weekly grooming is an ideal time to look for external parasites, as well as notice the general condition of the skin and especially the eyes, ears, mouth, paws, anus, and genitalia. Because your pet is getting older, it is important to know that skin problems may occur more often since the skin may be thinner, less elastic and does not repair itself as quickly. If it seems that your pet is losing more hair, it may be due to disease or because hair follicles are not as active as in the younger years. Tumors in and under the skin become more likely. If you happen to notice any abnormal odors, discharges, swellings, or lumps during grooming, report them immediately to your veterinarian.
Don't mistake signs of illness with signs of aging.
Signs of Illness:
• Increased water consumption
• Increased urine production
• Changes in appetite
• Behavior changes (more or less sleep than usual, crying out, irritation, lethargy)
• House training failure in a previously trained pet
• Vomiting or diarrhea
• Marked increase or decrease in weight
• Bad breath
• Open sores or lumps/bumps anywhere on the body
How does a geriatric exam differ from my pet's usual exam?
A geriatric exam is more extensive than a simple check-up. Your veterinarian will conduct a standard physical examination as well as oral and rectal examinations every six months. Along with these standard exams, your veterinarian will also examine your pet's ears, eyes, and thyroid glands. Some laboratory work will be done, including a complete blood count and a urinalysis; however, endocrine and other laboratory tests may be done if we feel that it's necessary. It is important to establish a baseline of normal values for your pet in order to readily identify changes.
Even if your pet seems perfectly healthy, regular geriatric check-ups are important to manage many of the changes associated with aging. Dogs and cats over seven years of age should be examined by a veterinarian twice a year. The incidence of cancer increases with age, but cancer may occur in pets after the age of ten.
A complete geriatric health maintenance program can provide a means to target age-related health problems, institute preventive health care measures, and detect any disorders early enough to provide the appropriate medical attention. This program also educates you, the pet owner, on health risks to your older pet and preventive steps.
All of these components as well as following Dr. Durkee’s recommendations for exercise, administration of any medication, and a proper diet are essential to the health and quality of life of your older pet.