By Dr. Dan Meakin
Senior pets are the best! You know them well, they know you even better, and they are worth their weight in gold for these reasons.
They’re also worth special care to keep them well and happy for as long as possible.
Appropriate health care can add years to the life of your pet as well as substantially decrease your cost of treating medical problems associated with aging.
The age your dog hits senior status varies by breed and other factors. The checkups your dog needs change at this time of life. Since pets age faster than humans, it can be estimated that one physical examination for a pet is equivalent to one exam every five to seven years in humans.
In later years, a comprehensive physical examination of your pet should be performed every six to twelve months, depending on any specific medical problems discovered.
When you and your vet know what’s going on in the dog’s body, you can adjust things that often make a world of difference in how the dog feels and behaves.
Many medical problems can be diagnosed through the use of diagnostic testing long before clinical signs of disease become evident.
Your vet should perform an ECG and glaucoma screening urinalysis, thyroid screening, complete blood counts and blood chemistry screening for your senior pet.
Blood values guide your veterinarian in making appropriate treatment choices for your pet’s individual situation.
Drawing blood is simple for most pets and relatively inexpensive – a bargain for the value to your pet’s good health. Some inherited medical problems take their greatest tolls as dogs reach the senior years, especially if they have not been previously treated.
Hypothyroidism undetected in younger years can cause serious problems in the geriatric dog, and hip dysplasia that may not have bothered the dog noticeably in younger years now may bring some bad days.
Depending on the dog’s age and other factors, medication will likely help, and surgery may be an option.
You can restructure the dog’s environment and daily routine to eliminate the need to walk on slick floors, jump up into vehicles or onto furniture, or climb a substantial number of steps.
Senior dogs are prone to cancers, so have any lumps or other symptoms checked promptly. Skin growths are more common in senior pets. Early removal decreases pain, your costs, and chances of spreading.
Many cancers can be cured if caught early. Sometimes treatment can provide a normal lifespan.
Any way you look at it, you need to know as early in the course of the cancer as possible. Depression of the immune system occurs in older pets, making them more susceptible to common infectious diseases.
Maintaining vaccinations is very important because of this potential for decreased resistance to disease. Senior pets should also be on flea, tick and heartworm prevention all year long.
Since senior pets develop a partial loss of taste and smell, they become picky eaters, even with treats, which makes giving medicine in pill form more difficult.
It helps when you’re trying to slip your dog a pill inside a treat to first give a treat or two without a hidden pill.
Then, without hesitation, give the treat with the pill tucked inside, followed at the same brisk pace by a few more treats. Perhaps the most curable and preventable disease in older pets is dental disease.
Dog’s teeth usually receive little, if any, preventive care and as a result are often very infected later in life.
Once bacteria becomes attached to the teeth below the gums, it spreads throughout the body. Many respiratory, kidney, liver, and heart infections result from this bacteria.
This is largely preventable with appropriate dental hygiene in the form of dental exams, routine use of dental hygiene products, and dental scaling/polishing.
A proper diet must meet nutrient requirements for an older dog. I recommend that you choose a diet that is specifically balanced for the geriatric stage your dog is in. Feed the highest quality pet food you can afford and read labels carefully.
Ideal diets for senior pets have less sodium and fat, and more fiber than regular adult foods. Higher quality and premium foods are also more digestible.
If a specific medical condition is diagnosed, a specific prescription diet may be best for your pet. Whatever you’re feeding your senior dog, make sure that you follow the feeding guidelines for less active pets.
Extra pounds burden the heart, kidneys, muscles and joints, decreasing life expectancy 30-50 percent. It is much harder to get your dog to lose weight than to prevent the weight gain in the first place.
After so many years of loyalty and support, your pet deserves the best care you and your vet can give them. Please bring your senior pet to a veterinarian if you observe any of the following:
• Sustained, significant increase in urination or water consumption
• Weight loss
• Significant increase or decrease in appetite, or failure to eat for more than two days
• Repeated vomiting or diarrhea
• Difficulty in passing stool or urine
• Elimination accidents in the house or general changes in bowel habits
• Lameness that lasts more than three days, or lameness in more than one leg
• Masses, open sores, or scabs on the skin that persist more than one week
• Foul mouth odor or drooling that lasts more than two days
• Increased size of the abdomen
• Persistent coughing
• Hair loss, especially if accompanied by scratching
• Seizures (convulsions)
• Reluctance or inability to chew dry food
Dr. Dan Meakin is the owner of All Creatures Animal Hospital, 1894 Ohio Pike in Amelia. Call (513) 797-PETS.