by Jacqueline Nicoll, K & Co. Marketing –
Most of us can agree that a senior animal with big, droopy eyes and greying beard can instantly have the effect of making our hearts melt. However, as much as our veterinarians will agree on the level of cuteness, they are analyzing something slightly different when they look into your pet’s aging eyes.
What exactly constitutes a senior pet? While the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) has made charts to easily distinguish what age qualifies a senior pet, most often your cat or dog can be considered a senior in the last 25% of the average life span for their particular breed.
As our pets age, just like us they require some extra care! Senior pets can become more susceptible to health conditions, which is why regular checkups with your veterinarian can help to detect, diagnose and treat these potential conditions sooner and address any underlying conditions.
“Some of the main things that a veterinarian will focus in on during a senior pet exam are changes in eyes, teeth, heart, lungs, body condition/size, joints and behaviour,” says Dr. Emma Thomson of Garry Oak Veterinary Hospital. “We may recommend routine bloodwork for pets greater than 10 years of age to monitor their internal organs (such as kidney, liver, electrolytes, etc.) and also discuss potential vaccines and parasite control, including the frequency and other recommendations. As pets age, the risk level changes. We’ll also be looking for evidence and evaluate risks of various diseases, such as kidney, liver or heart cancer.”
An aging animal can have various clues develop which can be lifesaving, or lead to a much higher quality of life in their remaining years, if discovered early.
“For instance, as dogs age, so do their eyes. In most dogs over the age of eight, we start to notice changes to their lens that result in a ‘white-cloudy’ appearance,” says Dr. Thomson. “There are various reasons for this occurrence so it’s important for ocular examinations to be performed to differentiate the condition, as one may be a normal old age change that does not require any treatment, compared to another which requires testing and treatment.”
Arthritis is another common problem among many aging pets. This manifests in ways such as slowing down on walks, reluctance to get up and down, decreased jumping, and stiff movement.
Regular oral examination is also important for our senior pets due to tartar and plaque buildup, which not only affects their teeth and can result in oral pain, but also accumulates bacteria in the body. This can result in damage to the heart and kidneys.
Some of the most prevention-based recommendations from veterinarians include properly assessing your pet’s nutrient requirements as they age, as well as maintaining good body and muscle condition. This will aid in reducing the weight placed on their joints and the risk of diabetes, liver disease and more.
The recommendation for vet visits increases to every six months as our pets move into their later lives. So while your veterinarian greatly enjoys a more frequent visit from a wise old dog, they really are just making sure that you have as many years as possible with your best friend at your side, begging for treats with the widest puppy eyes.