Dr. Kim Quinn December 2017
In general, we consider our dog and cats to be ‘senior’ pets when they are over 7 years of age. This rule may differ with large breed dogs, since these breeds age faster than smaller breed pets. Depending on the species, we can see different changes over time. Some of these changes may be preventable, and some we can slow the development over time. So, how do I know what to do and when?
Here are some of the more common diseases found in senior pets.
- Lenticular Sclerosis of the lenses of the eyes- This is seen with almost all geriatric pets, when the lens of the eye becomes gray and opaque over time. This is different from a true cataract, since dogs don’t become blind from the issue, but vision will decrease over time, especially in low light conditions. There is no treatment to reduce the progression, but dogs tend to do well with this issue over time. Cataracts can also form in dogs and cats, though the majority of time they are due to other health conditions, such as diabetes. If your vet is concerned there is a cataract present, they may recommend blood and urine testing to rule out diabetes as a possible underlying cause.
- Arthritis and Stiffness– Over time, joint wear and tear leads to inflammation, cartilage damage and pain. Most of these pets are stiff when they first get up, but as they start moving their joints produce synovial fluid to increase lubrication which facilitates easier moving as the day progresses. Some other signs you may see with arthritis include: hesitation to jump or go up/down the stairs, limping, reduction in energy level, and specifically for cats- urinating/defecating outside the litterbox. There are many different treatments available for arthritis such as: joint supplementation (i.e., glucosamine/chondroitin), pain medication, low impact exercises, and physiotherapy. Walking and exercise are very important for our senior animals, since we want to keep their muscles intact as long as possible. Continue bringing them for their daily walks, monitoring how well they are tolerating them. More frequent number of shorter walks is the best recipe for the seniors. Swimming is a great low-impact exercise, as well as hiding food in toys such as kongs- to keep their muscles and brain active!
- Urinary or Fecal Incontinence- Urinary incontinence is relatively common in spayed female dogs as they age due to estrogen level reduction in the body causing relaxation of the urinary tract sphincter muscle. Urinary incontinence can be seen by drips of urine in the place where the pet was laying. There are times when urinary incontinence can be confused with a urinary tract infection, or when the open urinary tract sphincter can predispose to a urinary tract infection. A urinalysis is performed first to help determine underlying causes, and which treatment (antibiotics, an estrogen supplement, or both), may be needed. Fecal incontinence can be more difficult to diagnose and treat. This can be caused by nerve issues, an issue with the anal sphincter, or gastrointestinal disease. Depending on the cause, treatments may be completely different.
- Dental Disease- Plaque and tartar are made up of bacteria and food. Initially, they adhere to the teeth, but keep accumulating until they cause gingivitis, recession of the gumline, and finally root disease and decay. Our senior patients are most at risk because of years of tartar accumulation. Tooth root abscesses can cause infection, pain and severe disease necessitating emergency treatment. Daily tooth brushing helps to decrease accumulation of plaque and tartar over time. Dental cleanings can aid in reducing the further progression of dental disease, and helps identify diseased teeth which may need removal prior to causing abscesses.
- Lumps and Bumps
– It is common for humans and animals to have growths as we age. Most lumps will be benign (non-cancerous), but since they could be cancerous we would like to examine them to ensure this isn’t the case. If there is any question, we may recommend either a needle biopsy, or to have the entire lump removed and sent away for analysis. This will help us to plan if we need any further stages of treatment, or if the lump has been removed in its entirety.
6. Major organ abnormalities, i.e., Kidneys, Thyroid- These organs commonly have issues with function as time goes on. In cats, an overactive thyroid gland, as well as kidney disease are two different disease which require medical treatment. An overactive thyroid gland can cause weight loss, hyperactivity, ravenous appetite, and heart disease. In dogs, an underactive thyroid gland is a common issue, leading to decreased metabolism, weight gain, poor hair coat, and lethargy. In either pet, kidney disease is a wearing out process over time, causing increased drinking and urination, weight loss, and loss of muscle mass. With any of these issues, we would recommend blood and urine testing in order to diagnose, then determine types of treatment and prognosis
7. Senility– As we age, our cognitive function will decline, the same happens with our pets. This is often seen as disorientation or confusion, and especially disruption of normal sleep-wake cycles. In cats, this may mean meowing at odd times of the day, often in the middle of the night. They may ask for more food when the bowl is full, and otherwise have changes in behaviour over time. In dogs, asking to go outside more often without needing to go to the bathroom, the development of anxiety disorders, and there is change in the amount they would like to interact with their owners. With senility, there are a few different treatment types we may adopt such as: Selegiline, a supplement used to aid in cognitive dysfunction syndrome, brain health diets (i.e., Purina Neurocare), or antianxiety medications
8. Proper Diet- Ensuring the correct nutritional balance is important, older animals may need more fiber, less calories, and lower levels of protein, but this is all based on the individual. Calories are especially important for us to monitor over time, since so many senior pets are overweight! We can calculate the approximate number of calories needed for your pet anytime.
This is just a quick overview of some of the common issues we deal with concerning our senior pets. If you have questions or concerns about your pet, please give us a call!