Why We Love Older Pets

If you have visited our practice you have probably met Parker and Maddox, our clinic kitties.  They are as much a part of our team as any of the staff.  Since we have been open 15 years the cats, who are original inhabitants, have grown into senior citizens.  We know they are jumping less because of arthritis and they sleep more.  They are still known to snatch one of our discarded treat filled syringe covers to scarf the yummy leftovers if we are not careful.  And burrowing into the freshy dried laundry is still a favorite thing. The team monitors their diet and they are fed food designed for their life stage that is easier on their digestive tract and supportive of their internal organs.   They are happy cats with a good life.

So how can you help your aging pet enjoy their senior years?  It is common knowledge that dogs, and cats age more quickly than people do but the “7 years for every year of human years” is a myth.  The truth is the larger your dog the more rapidly it ages.  A 10 pound poodle may be middle aged at 10 but a Great Dane may be “ready for retirement”.  The following graph from the AVMA gives some insight into how pets age.                          

Common ailments for senior pets are similar to what aging humans experience. 

  • Arthritis – the typical signs are reluctance to go up and down stairs, jump or go on walks.  Overweight pets experience even more discomfort as the added weight puts increased pressure on their joints.  The correct diet is extremely important in managing aging pets and we are happy to help you choose the right one.
  • Lose of sight and hearing.  On occasion animals will develop cataracts just as people do but they are excellent at adapting to their circumstances. An acquaintance’s beagle had gone blind and they didn’t realize it until they moved to a new home!  She had memorized the furniture placement and paths in the old house but began bumping into walls in the new home.  We always check for eye problems during our routine physical exams. 

Hearing loss can be identified when pets fail to come as called in the past or they are startled when you walk up on them when at rest.  Teach your pet hand signals for come and stay to help you communicate with them when they age.

  • Changes in Behavior – At Caring Hearts Animal Hospital we are always highly tuned in to our patient’s behavior as a Fear Free™ Certified team. Behavior changes can be the first signs of aging.  Sometimes pets get “grouchy” because they are uncomfortable, or they can’t see or hear.  Other behavior changes can be caused from decline in cognitive function – similar to dementia or Alzheimer’s in humans. (pets do not get Alzheimer’s).  This list from the AVMA is helpful when monitoring your senior pet’s behavioral changes.  If you see any of these please call our office to make an appointment so we can offer help.

Common behavior changes in older pets that may be signs of cognitive dysfunction:

Watch the Weight! 

  • easily disturbed by loud sounds
  • unusually aggressive behavior
  • increased barking/meowing
  • anxiety or nervousness
  • confused or disoriented behavior
  • increased wandering
  • house soiling (“accidents”)
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • less interest in playing
  • repeating the same
  • not responding to voice commands
  • more grouchy or irritable than usual

Of course, monitoring your pet’s weight at all ages is vitally important to their health, but extra weight can have a tremendous impact on an older pet.  Just a few pounds – or ounces for small pets- can increase the risk of arthritis, increase difficulty of breathing, can create insulin resistance or diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and even cancer.  Obese pets have increased skin problems as bacteria and yeast grow in fat folds. 

We understand how difficult it is to resist those begging eyes and cute wiggle, but treats don’t have to be fattening.  Look at veggies like carrots and green beans as great crunchy snacks for your dog.  If you look at the calories on some pet treats you will see that giving one is the equivalent of feeding them a candy bar!   To be an ideal body condition you should be able to feel your pet’s ribs but not see them. 

Classifications of body scoring:

5 – Obese – A thick layer of fat makes your pet’s ribs very difficult to find. Bonier areas like the knees are covered by a moderate to think layer of fat.

4 – Overweight – The ribs and bonier areas are difficult to feel with a thick layer of fat.

3 – Ideal –You can easily feel your pet’s ribs, but there is a slight layer of fat covering them. Bony prominences also have just a slight layer of fat.

2 – Underweight – Little fat is covering the ribs, and they are visible without having to touch your pet.

1 – Very Thin – There is no fat around your pet’s ribs, and they are visible to the eye. Bony prominences are also visible with no sign of fat.

Sudden weight loss in an older pet is also a source for concern, especially in cats. Hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland), diabetes and kidney disease are common causes of weight loss in senior cats. If you notice any sudden changes in your older pet’s weight call us for an appointment.

If you are interested in helping veterinary research learn more about how dogs age we encourage you to check out the Dog Aging Project.  This research is being done with the veterinary schools at Texas A&M and Washington state. You can nominate your dog to be part of this ambitious project.  The goal of the research is to advance our understanding of aging and to accelerate medical breakthroughs for dogs and humans. They will integrate the findings about dogs with other scientific and medical programs around the world to power research on health and aging in a way never before possible.  To nominate your dog, visit this website to read more. https://dogagingproject.org/

As 2019 winds to a close take the time to evaluate your older pet.  If you see any of the signs mentioned please share them with us so we can offer support and advice.  After all, we love our seniors Parker and Maddox and we want your pets to live long happy lives too.