Senior pet health: Caring for your aging pet

We all wish our best furry friends will live forever (or at least as long as we do). However, dogs and cats age more quickly than humans, and by the age of 7, they’re considered middle-aged. When your pet starts to come up on AARP age, their health needs change. But with proper healthcare, diet, and exercise, there’s no reason your kitty or pup can’t reach the golden years – and maybe even reach the triple-digits!

Robust healthcare for senior pets
Geriatric pets – those older than age 7, or age 6 for dogs over 50 pounds – should receive:

1. Twice yearly wellness exams.
Wellness visits include a thorough evaluation of your pet’s medical history, health risk screenings, senior pet health education, and referrals to specialty care (if needed), says says Dr. Scott Helms. When we examine old pets, we look for common issues such as infected teeth, cataracts, heart murmurs, or tumors.

Regular physical exams and consultations are the most valuable tool to monitor your pet’s health. They’re an easy way to catch developing problems in your aging pet, and early diagnosis is critical to preventing and managing diseases including, but not limited to, dental disease, obesity, osteoarthritis, renal disease, and diabetes.

These exams are performed at your regular veterinarian, who will refer you to Veterinary Referral Hospital of Hickory if necessary for further tests or procedures.

2. A health risk screen
As part of your senior pet’s robust healthcare regime, your veterinarian may suggest health risk screenings. There are a lot of critical values that need to be checked, including blood sugar, thyroid hormone, and kidney function.

Fortunately, there are easy tests to give us important answers, including bloodwork and urinalysis. With regular health screenings, you don’t have to wait until your pet gets sick before you realize something is wrong. Abnormalities are caught right away, and potential problems can be addressed before they are detrimental to your pet’s health.

In short, the key to keeping senior pets healthy is regularly bringing them into your regular veterinarian – even if they aren’t sick.

“Clients have grown accustomed to a problem-based visit that centers around specific medical issues,” says Dr. Helms. “But wellness visits often result in identification of problems that respond more fully to early intervention. Hepatic, renal, endocrine, and orthopedic problems can be identified during a wellness exam before the patient becomes symptomatic for the disease.”

When to come to Veterinary Referral Hospital of Hickory
Unlike humans, your dog or cat can’t say, “I better get this sore knee checked out,” or “This chest pain warrants a doctor visit.” Your pet depends on your bringing him to the vet to figure that out – even when you don’t see something obviously wrong.

You might notice a change in habits or a new behavior that’s a sign of a problem. A dog that won’t jump on the bed or a cat who isn’t grooming properly may have an underlying physical problem.

Here are some other behavior changes that may indicate something is wrong:

  • Increased reaction to sounds
  • Increased vocalization
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Increased irritability or aggression
  • Decreased response to commands
  • Incontinence
  • Decreased self-grooming
  • Change in sleep patterns

Behaviors that indicate advanced problems include decreased appetite or thirst, increased or decreased urination, poor coat quality, vomiting, sore mouth, blood in urine, weakness, coughing or respiratory issues, and decreased exercise tolerance. If your senior dog or cat experiences any of these problems, bring him to your regular veterinarian right away, as these are signs of kidney disease, urinary tract disease, and heart disease, among other things. If your pet has one of these problems, your veterinarian will refer you to Veterinary Referral Hospital of Hickory.

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