Feb 02 2017

Geriatric Care: How to care for our aging pets

It is inevitable that we will all age. As our dogs and cats enter their golden years they too will have to face common issues that occur with age. Often there is a gradual decline in physical and/or mental ability, but because our dogs and cats are very good at hiding these problems, we must be vigilant to ensure that our pets never suffer in silence and thus ensure that they maintain a good quality of life.

Not all our pets age at the same rate. Generally our smaller dogs and cats tend to live longer and are considered seniors at a slightly older age, typically around 10 for seniors, and are considered geriatrics in their mid to late teens. Whereas our giant breeds, such as the Great Danes, are considered seniors by 7 and geriatrics by 9 or 10.

Ideally caring for our senior & geriatric pets we still want to focus on preventative measures as detecting diseases in their early stages greatly improves their outcome. We also want to make sure that our pets never suffer in silence. Since dogs and cats are masters of disguise, that is they very good at hiding clinical signs, it is not uncommon for pain to go undetected for many years. (Click for a list of clinical signs that may indicate your dog or cat may be in pain.) Arthritis, for example, is a very common source of hidden pain and studies show that 50% of dogs and 90% of cats go untreated for arthritis.

Another common change as our pets age, is a change in nutritional requirements. Some pets need to lose weight as that added weight is hard on their joints, as well it increases their risk to certain diseases such as diabetes. We often need to feed our geriatric pets multiple smaller meals, rather than the standard two meals a day, as the intestines do atrophy (become thinner) as our pets age. This change in the intestines also means that we want to ensure our seniors are eating a highly digestible diet. A pet’s sense of smell will also diminishes over time and this can greatly affect their appetite. So beside meal size, frequency, digestibility, palatability, scent, and calories, what other things do we look at when it comes to nutrition and our seniors? We like to examine what nutrients each ingredient is providing as many seniors will have a change in requirements; for example we look at levels of L-carnitine for weight control, water soluble vitamins such as Vitamin B, potassium levels, and Omega 3 levels for the joints, kidneys, heart and brain. But as every pet is an individual, we need to ensure we are making a correct diet adjustments for each pet by doing a nutritional assessment and by knowing what issues each senior pet faces. With this knowledge we will help you come up with recommendations that will work best for you and your pet.

With advancing age many pets face a variety of problems. Some of the common issues include:

– Eyes – dry eye / cataracts / decrease vision
• Brain – dementia
• Skin – decrease grooming / warts / tumors / hair loss
• Endocrine diseases – diabetes / cushings / hyperthyroid / hypothyroid
• Heart – murmurs / congestive heart failure
• Teeth – loose teeth / abscess / halitosis
• Urinary – kidney insufficiency / incontinence
• Cancer
• Arthritis
• Nutritional deficiencies

Within the last few decades, advancements in veterinary medicine have caused a dramatic increase in the longevity of our pets. Today dogs and cats are living longer and healthier lives. If there is a problem with your older pet, don’t assume it is just because of old age, and that nothing can be done. With appropriate treatment, many conditions can improve. It is all about maintaining quality of life.



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