“Love does not change, no matter how many dog years go by.”
-Amanda Jones (Dog Years: Faithful Friends, Then and Now)
I often thumb through this book looking at the comparison of puppy and senior pictures and reading the impact these dogs have on their human’s lives. Tears come easily as I relish in the relationships and love I see in these photographs. Many of you currently have senior pets and my goal as a veterinarian is to help keep their golden years great!
So, what is a senior pet? First we need to consider that animal ages vary considerably between breeds. Cats generally have a longer average lifespan than dogs, and small breed dogs tend to live longer than larger breeds. The average cat is considered senior at around 11 years of age. A small dog may be considered senior at age 9, a medium-sized dog at age 7 and a larger breed dog at age 5 or 6.
It is true and often said that age is not a disease, but senior pets like senior people develop age related problems. There are some common conditions and clinical signs we as owners can monitor in our senior pets. Changes and disease that are more prevalent in senior pets are: vision defects, hearing loss, dental disease, cognitive dysfunction, kidney disease, cancer and arthritis. Clinical signs to look for in your aging pet include: changes in body weight, decrease or no appetite, increased water consumption, decreased activity level or difficulty getting around, new lumps or bumps, difficulty breathing or coughing, a foul odor from the mouth or body, and changes in behavior.
As a veterinarian, I recommend that healthy senior dogs and cats be examined every six months. Scheduling these regular wellness exams is one of the most important steps you can take to keep your senior pet healthy. Early detection of any disease can lead to early intervention and if possible better outcomes to treatment. Complete diagnostic efforts are essential, because in senior pets, diseases frequently occur in multiple body systems. Routine monitoring is particularly helpful so that baselines can be established or trends can be followed. This helps us recognize diseases as soon as possible.
Amie M. Dow, DVM
Prescott Animal Hospital