Senior pets need special care during their golden years

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Pets are living longer thanks to better veterinary care, and just like humans, these aging cats and dogs need special care, says a Purdue University veterinarian.

Dog wearing reading glasses

Some small dog breeds are considered geriatric at 15, and large and giant breeds, such as Labrador retrievers and mastiffs, are considered seniors when they are just 7 years old.

“Improvements in veterinary care, diagnostics and earlier intervention make it possible for us to enjoy our pets longer, but key to that enjoyment is helping them to enjoy their later years to the fullest,” says Lorraine Corriveau, a wellness veterinarian in the School of Veterinary Medicine. “The attitudes of both veterinarians and pet owners toward our senior pets are changing. The belief now is that age is not a disease, and veterinary medicine is emphasizing senior pet health through preventive and wellness programs.”

Some small dog breeds are considered geriatric at 15, and large and giant breeds, such as Labrador retrievers and mastiffs, are considered seniors when they are 7 years old, Corriveau says. Cats, especially indoor cats, live longer than dogs in general.

Just like people, dogs and cats are prone to debilitating ailments as they age, such as kidney failure, heart disease, arthritis, dental disease, cancer and cognitive dysfunction. Pets have more health care resources available to them, such as a new generation of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, which keep side effects to a minimum while managing aches and pains. The most important thing a pet owner can do is schedule regular veterinary exams, she says.

“Young pets need regular exams once or twice yearly, however, as dogs and cats approach middle age, these exams should be more frequent,” Corriveau says. “Remember, every year in a pet’s life is equivalent to five to seven human years. So, waiting to see the veterinarian a full year would be like seeing your doctor every seven years, and these exams are crucial for disease and problem intervention.”

Depending on the pet’s health risks or symptoms, these exams may include bloodwork, blood pressure checks, radiographs or electrocardiograms.

Early warning signs that a senior pet may be having problems can include:

  • Increased thirst and urination.
  • Loss of bladder control or noncompliance with house training.
  • Repeated vomiting.
  • Bad breath, drooling or changes in appetite.
  • Excessive panting or exercise intolerance.
  • Lumps or changes in areas of skin color.
  • Change in appetite such as eating more or less than usual.
  • Changes in behavior such as disorientation or excessive whining.
  • Unusual bowel habits such as diarrhea or constipation.
  • Gaining or losing weight.

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