Senior Pets

Posted on: 26 March 2008 by 50connect editorial

As pets age, the incidence of degenerative diseases increases.

Signs of old age aren't always old age.

As pets age, the incidence of degenerative diseases increases. Common ailments of older dogs and cats include arthritis, dental disease, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, skin problems, kidney failure and thyroid disorders.

"Symptoms of degenerative diseases can often be misinterpreted by pet owners as signs of aging," said Dr. Marty Becker, vet and consumer spokessperson for National Pet Wellness Month. "We expect pets to slow down as they get older and show a change in appetite or weight, but these signs of aging may actually be symptoms of a chronic illness or disease that can only be properly diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian."

Dr. Becker recommends all pets, but especially senior pets, have a wellness exam every six months. "Since our pets can't tell us when and where it hurts, twice-a-year checkups are the best way to detect problems before they become serious and while they are still treatable. And, a pet owner's best source for a wellness exam and preventive health care information is their personal veterinarian."

Because dogs and cats age, on average, up to seven times faster than people, significant health changes can occur in a short amount of time. The risks of cancer, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, heart disease and other serious conditions all increase with age. Because today's pets are living longer, chances are many will experience a potentially serious illness during their lifetime.

"Some pet owners take their dog or cat to the veterinarian only when they notice something unusual or have cause for concern, and that's a mistake," said Dr. Becker. "By the time a pet owner notices a significant change in their pet's bodily functions, activity or behaviour, the underlying disease or illness may have progressed to the point where treatment may be difficult, lengthy or even impossible."

Paddington, a nine-year-old golden retriever, was recently brought in for a routine six-month checkup and a tumor was discovered. "When Paddington came into the exam room I noticed she was weak, breathing rapidly, and her gums were pale," said Dr. Jan Bellows of Hometown Animal Hospital and Dental Clinic.

Upon examination, Dr. Bellows felt a very large growth in Paddington's abdomen. X-rays confirmed a large mass. After blood, urine, and other routine diagnostic screenings, Paddington was taken to surgery, where a basketball-sized tumor attached to her spleen was removed. Fortunately, pathology showed the mass was benign. It was removed and Paddington required no further therapy. "She made a wonderful recovery and was home two days later," said Dr. Bellows. "What saved her was the semi-annual wellness exam."

Vaccinations are also animportant part of any prevention program. While no vaccine is 100 per cent effective, many dangerous or infectious diseases can be prevented through a program that includes routine booster shots. Approved vaccines are available for many common canine and feline diseases. Dogs can be vaccinated against rabies, distemper, parvovirus, adenovirus, coronavirus, leptospirosis, bordetellosis ("kennel cough"), parainfluenza and Lyme disease. Cats can be vaccinated against rabies, leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), infectious peritonitis, rhinotracheitis, panleukopenia, calicivirus and pneumonitis.

Today, the average life span of a dog is thirteen years and cats can live into their twenties. With pets living longer, senior pet care is an important part of pet owner education for most veterinary clinics. When is a dog or cat considered "senior"? By age two, most dogs and cats have already reached adulthood. At four, many are entering middle age. Generally, veterinary experts agree most pets over age seven qualify for senior status. For dogs, aging is more rapid for larger breeds than smaller breeds. For example, nine-year-old Paddington is 61 in "people years" while a similar aged St. Bernard would be 71 and a beagle would be 56. A nine-year-old cat would be 60.


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