Pet Care for Senior Dogs and Cats

Once a year, conscientious pet owners visit their veterinarian for wellness visits and vaccinations. During the examination the doctor will ask about problems or concerns that may be affecting your pet.  When dogs and cats are young, these problems may be few but as the pets begin to grow older, owners may start to recognize symptoms and behavior trends that affect the overall picture of health.

Pets go into middle age at around six to seven years of age and are actually geriatric at ten years (with large breed dogs aging even sooner). There are proactive things that owners can do to ensure healthy longevity for their animals:

Maintain Good Dental Hygiene Early On

Healthy teeth and gums are very important for overall health and comfort. Excessive tartar, gingivitis, cavities, loose teeth, and periodontal disease cause oral discomfort and chronic pain and can even be dangerous to the heart and kidneys if left untreated. It is best to get teeth cleaned as recommended rather than waiting. Some owners decline dental cleaning because of concerns over anesthesia. This should be discussed in depth with the veterinarian in order to have all questions answered.

Get Biannual Blood Work

For healthy older animals, blood work should be done at least twice a year. Pets age faster than we do and body systems can change over a period of months. It is more desirable to monitor wellness laboratory findings and attempt to catch any changes before they become problematic.  For patients affected with chronic illnesses such as kidney or liver disease, thyroid disorders, heart problems, and those on long-term medications,  more frequent blood work will be necessary.

Do Not Dismiss Chronic Symptoms

If your cat or dog has a history of vomiting or diarrhea, bring it up to your veterinarian. It could be a sign of something more serious down the road. Cats are especially prone to bowel inflammations and an early diagnosis helps with the best treatment. Diarrhea can signal several types of problems in dogs. That cough you hear, stiffness when getting up, reluctance to jump (cats), eating objects that are not food (called pica), excessive sleeping, increase in urination, and weight loss, can all signal health issues that should be addressed right away.

Learn How to Recognize Your Pet’s Discomfort

Pets get aches and pains just as we do. Aside from the obvious pain from acute injuries like a laceration or broken toe, there is also chronic pain from arthritis, hip dysplasia, nerve damage, ear aches and cancer. Animals don’t necessarily cry out in pain but they show discomfort in other ways. They may sleep more, become aggressive when touched, shy away, refuse to move around, show weakness, or limp. Cats may stop eating well. Your veterinarian can help pinpoint where the pain is so that it can be treated, giving your pet comfort and quality of life. Consider following treatment protocols given for pain management not only because it is in your pet’s best interest; it also gives you some input and control over his or her well-being.

By Dr. JoAnne Carey, Takoma Park Animal Clinic

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