Do you have a special dog in your life who has a greying muzzle, or a cat who now prefers a quiet napping place over playing? According to the AVMA, depending on the breed, dogs and cats become “senior” at about 6-7 years old. The way we take care of pets changes as they age, and making a few tweaks to their health care and day-to-day upkeep can help keep our senior pets happy and healthy.
At home, rugs may be helpful on wood floors to help older pets maintain their footing. In addition, ramps may need to be considered, especially for larger dogs that struggle with stairs. Having food, water, and litter boxes easily accessible (by removing stairs or obstacles) is also very important for older pets.
Senior pets aren’t going to be as agile as when they were younger, but they may have arthritis or another health condition that needs to be addressed. “Slowing down” may be a sign of illness or pain, so be sure to check with your vet if it starts to interfere with daily life. If you have an older large breed dog that is having trouble standing or walking, there are harnesses that can help you assist them in moving around. Your regular veterinarian can help you determine what kind of harness to purchase and may also be able to give tips on sizing for your pet.
In regards to health, for senior pets, the “wait and see” approach is generally not recommended. Our senior pets can be more susceptible to a variety of issues, and often have less “reserve” than a healthy adult pet. They can get dehydrated and deteriorate quickly compared to their youthful counterparts. If you have a senior pet that is acting “off”, has a decreased appetite, is losing weight, vomiting, having diarrhea, sleeping more often, limping, or has other changes, it is better to be on the safe side and have them evaluated by your family veterinarian.
What about those lumps and bumps? Many of them can be benign. However, other lumps/bumps that are developing on or underneath the skin can be malignant and may spread to other places in the body. We recommend having a veterinarian evaluate any new lumps/bumps to determine if diagnostic testing is necessary. Diagnostic testing, such as a fine needle aspirate or a biopsy, can help determine if the mass is a cause for concern and if it should be removed. It’s much easier (and cheaper) to remove small skin masses compared to larger ones!
Lab work is important! Lab work acts as an “internal physical exam”, and allows the veterinarian to evaluate a pet’s major electrolytes, blood sugar, liver values, urine parameters, and other important values. Even if a pet isn’t acting sick, lab work can help catch disease processes before they show signs of illness! By the time underlying disease causes a pet to become ill, the sickness can be quite advanced. Prevention and early detection is so important in our older pets. If a pet has already been diagnosed with an underlying disease such as kidney failure, lab work may be recommended on a more frequent basis.
Physical examinations are crucial. Even if your senior pet isn’t due for vaccinations, it’s important to touch base with your veterinarian at least once yearly. In fact, it would be ideal if the majority of senior pets were evaluated twice yearly. Pets age much faster than humans do, so more frequent checkups are necessary! It is sometimes tough to notice these changes when we see our pets every day. Veterinarians are trained to perform a thorough physical examination and will partner with you in keeping your senior pet happy and healthy.
Senior pets may take a little extra care than young animals, but that doesn’t make them any less amazing! As always, if you notice anything about your pet that causes concern, be sure to bring them into your regular veterinarian just to be safe.