Handling the problems of old age in your pet

It is not unusual for the behavior and habits of our pets to change—just like people—as they get older. While some of these are consistent with old age, such as declining activity levels and reduced hearing, there are other signs that may indicate something more sinister is occurring and may warrant further investigation by a veterinarian.

The age at which a pet reaches “old age” varies greatly depending on breed and species. In general, cats and small dogs are considered elderly between the ages of 7-10, while some larger breed dogs, because of a shorter lifespan, are considered geriatric at approximately six years old.

To aid your pet in living as long and healthy a life as possible, it is vital that pet owners communicate openly and directly with their veterinarian. As pets get older their immune system starts to wane and so keeping up-to-date with vaccinations and deworming protocols is vital. This is also a great opportunity to discuss with your veterinarian about how to care for your aging pet and important signs to look out for that may indicate age-related diseases. On your veterinarian’s part, they will perform in-depth examinations and bloodwork as well as other vital laboratory tests to help check for warning signs of changes that might be markers for bigger problems.

Taking note of behavioral changes will help alert both you and your veterinarian to potential problems. Many of these changes are early indicators of diseases that, if caught early, can be managed and extend the lifespan of your pet. Easy things to keep an eye on that could be worrisome are:

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Loss of urine control
  • House soiling
  • Increase/decrease appetite
  • Skin and haircoat changes
  • Lumps and bumps
  • Bad breath or excessive salivation
  • Stiffness, soreness, intermittent lameness
  • Excessive panting
  • Coughing
  • Weight change (increase or decrease)

Common age-related diseases associated with the above include diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis, dental disease, prostate disease and cancer. Nutrition plays a key role in the health of an elderly pet. Obesity is a common health problem in pets and can be especially problematic in older animals. Obesity can put strain on already arthritic joints leading.

BIO: Dr. Anna is one of the veterinary surgeons at Animal Doctors International. Anna’s special interest is neurology in which she gained experience in referral hospitals in Germany and Switzerland. Anna has moved to Vietnam following a successful stint as senior veterinarian for an animal charity in Thailand.