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As dogs and cats age they require more care and attention from their owner. Cats and small dogs are considered geriatric (senior) from the age of 7. Larger breed dogs are classed as geriatric from the age of 5 as they tend to have a shorter life span. It is often possible to keep your pet healthy well into their senior years by following the points below:
When your pet becomes a senior, they should visit the vet twice a year for a check up. Your vet will perform a full physical examination and often do a blood test. They will look for any changes since the last visit, such as weight loss / gain, new lumps or bumps and talk to you about how your pet has been at home. After all, the pet owner is the best guide for the vet about how healthy their animal is. They see them every day and are the first ones to notice any change in appetite, exercise, behaviour etc.
Similar to older people, senior pets are at an increased risk of diseases such as diabetes, endocrine, heart disease, cancer, senility and arthritis. Often these diseases do not show obvious symptoms in the early stages, but if your pet has a regular check up the disease will be found earlier and treatment can be more successful. Prevention is always better than cure!
Good nutrition is important for dogs and cats of any age. The diet must be suitable for their age, health and lifestyle. Geriatric pets require foods that are easily digested and have different calorie levels and ingredients. For example, there are specific foods for pets with chronic diseases, such as diabetes and arthritis. Weight control is an important factor in selecting an appropriate diet for a senior pet. Many dogs become less active with age and are at risk of becoming overweight. This can lead to worsening arthritis, so weight control diets are readily available. Your vet will help you choose the best food for your pet based on their individual needs.
Dental disease is a problem in pets of all ages but it worsens as a pet grows older. Veterinarians find evidence of dental disease in dogs and cats as young as 2 years of age and certain breeds develop more significant dental problems. The main problem with dental disease is the pain it causes. As it worsens it can also make the pet quite sick. Plaque and tartar build up on the teeth, leading to gingivitis (inflamed gums) and eventually bacteria can enter the bloodstream.
Proper dental care involves the vet assessing your pet’s dental health at their twice yearly check up. It is recommended that dogs and cats have a dental scale and polish every year to prevent more serious dental problems. Some dogs and cats may require the extraction of teeth if there is evidence of more serious disease. The regular use of dental food / dental treats / home brushing are also helpful in minimising dental disease.
Even though older dogs might be slowing down, they do not need to spend their life lying around! Exercise is important for keeping your dog both physically and mentally healthy. It will help your dog stay lean and maintain healthy joints and muscles. However the exercise should be tailored to their individual requirements. Your dog may not be able to go on long walks, but regular, less strenuous walks are good.
Cats too can become less active as they age, sleeping more. This is fine as long as their food intake is adjusted accordingly so their weight remains stable. Geriatric pets with arthritis benefit from softer bedding or a special dog bed to make sleeping more comfortable. Carpet and rugs on the floor can help to prevent them slipping over. Also, providing a way for them to avoid having to use stairs or jump is helpful, such as a ramp.
Some cats or dogs may benefit from treatment for arthritis which can be in the form of cartrophen injections or anti-inflammatory medications to help with their signs. If you are concerned, please speak to one of our vets about this next time you’re in.