In recent history the life expectancy of our pets has increased greatly. This is primarily due to improved veterinary care and quality of diet. One sequelae to living longer is that pets (as well as humans) are faced with a whole new set of age-related conditions. Dogs and cats are both considered “seniors” when they turn seven years old, and this is when we need to start watching them more closely. Cats are particularly good at hiding illness and learning to live with chronic pain, and often we can only detect their pain with a thorough physical exam. In the veterinary community we like to say that age is not a disease. Senior pets can live long healthy lives with proper care. Some of the things we do see in older pets; however, are cancer, heart and blood pressure diseases, kidney and urinary tract disease, liver disease, diabetes, joint or bone disease and chronic pain (degenerative joint disease is one of the most common things we see in geriatric dogs and cats), and senility.
As veterinarians, our goal is to detect these issues early so we can intervene- improving your pet’s quality of life. The most important thing you can do for your senior pet is a wellness exam every 6 months to detect signs of illness. Senior pet exams are similar to those for younger pets, but are more in depth, and may include dental care, blood work, and specific checks for physical signs of diseases that are more likely in older pets. These visits should also include nutritional consultations, weight control guidance, parasite control, and a focus on maintaining good mobility. Discussing mental health is also important. If any changes in your pet's behavior are noticed, please consult your veterinarian right away. Often behavior changes, especially in senior cats, are the first sign that something may be wrong. Common signs of illness that should alert you to call your veterinarian for an appointment are decreased appetite, increased thirst or urination, inappropriate urination, poor haircoat, limping, vomiting, a sore mouth, and “slowing down”.
In partnership with your trusted family veterinarian, you can develop a tailored wellness plan to maintain longevity and quality of life for your beloved pets.