As pets age, they tend to be at greater risk for certain diseases and health conditions, such as osteoarthritis, heart and kidney disease, and thyroid issues. That’s why regular wellness exams and more extensive screening tests, including blood work, become even more crucial for our senior dogs and cats. They can help catch diseases or other problems as early as possible, when they may be easier to manage or treat.
Not only can senior wellness exams help detect diseases early, but these veterinary visits may also reveal that your senior pet is healthy, which can give you peace of mind.
We like to see most senior pets twice a year. Call us to schedule your pet’s senior wellness exam today!
When Is My Pet Considered a Senior?
Thanks to excellent veterinary and at-home care, many pets today are living into their teens and even 20s (for cats). Although senior status varies by pet, generally:
- Most dogs are considered seniors around 7 to 8 years of age.
- Large-breed dogs may be considered seniors at 5 or 6.
- Most cats become seniors starting somewhere between 7 and 11.
Changes in Senior Pets
As your pet moves into his or her senior years, you may notice some common signs of aging, such as decreased hearing and vision, changes in how much your pet sleeps, and whitening of the fur, especially on the face.
Other changes may be less obvious, particularly if your pet hides signs that anything is wrong (especially common with cats). And because pets age faster than people, their health condition can change faster as well. That’s why your veterinarian needs to see your pet more often as he or she gets older.
Common Diseases in Older Dogs and Cats
Some diseases and health conditions that may affect senior pets include:
- Arthritis—This painful degenerative joint disease is common in both dogs and cats, affecting at least 20% to 25% of dogs and anywhere from 22% to more than 90% of cats.* Osteoarthritis cannot be cured, but when it’s diagnosed early, it can be managed more effectively, slowing the disease, minimizing pain, and maximizing pets’ mobility.
- Cancer—Screening tests are crucial for helping to catch cancer as early as possible. We have more treatment options than ever before for enhancing quality of life for pets with cancer.
- Diabetes—Drinking and urinating more frequently are classic signs of diabetes. Catching and controlling this disease early is essential.
- Heart disease—Older pets are prone to developing heart problems, and high blood pressure (hypertension) is also common in these pets. A special diet and medications can help us manage heart disease and keep senior pets enjoying life.
- Hyperthyroidism/Hypothyroidism—These thyroid problems affect dogs and cats differently. Older cats tend to have hyperthyroidism, which speeds up their metabolism, making it hard for them to keep weight on, despite being hungry and eating a lot. Older dogs, on the other hand, tend to have hypothyroidism, which slows down their metabolism and causes weight gain. We have options that can help these pets, but the earlier we catch thyroid issues, the better. Untreated, they can cause other serious problems.
- Kidney disease/urinary tract disease—Drinking and urinating more can also be signs of kidney trouble, but these symptoms aren’t always obvious, and kidney disease isn’t curable. However, if the disease is diagnosed early, we may recommend a special diet to help slow the disease, as well as other management options that can help pets feel better.
- Liver disease—Depending on the type of liver disease, pets may only have vague symptoms or not show any obvious signs until the disease is advanced, so early detection and treatment are crucial. Besides medications, we may also prescribe a special diet to help manage liver disease in some pets.
Testing for Early Disease in Pets
Lab work, including blood and urine tests, can help us determine whether your senior pet has any diseases we need to treat. And early detection means we can start treating your pet sooner, rather than waiting until a disease has advanced and may be harder to manage.
If a disease is detected early, your pet may have more options for care and maintain a higher quality of life.
Certain diseases show similar signs, so determining the cause of your pet’s symptoms is essential. Testing plays a big role in helping us figure out what’s wrong and how to properly treat your pet.
Ideally, we like to begin performing senior screening for our patients at 7 years of age or earlier, so we can get a baseline of what’s normal for your individual pet. This may vary for some pets, depending on breed, size, and specific health factors. Your veterinarian will let you know when they recommend starting senior wellness screening.
The Importance of Weight and Nutrition in Senior Pets
Keeping your pet at a healthy weight as he or she ages is essential. Being overweight in particular can put your pet at higher risk for serious diseases, and a weight change in either direction could be a warning sign of a health condition. It can also indicate a need to adjust your pet’s diet.
This is why when your senior pet comes in for a wellness exam, we’ll check both weight and body condition to make sure your dog or cat isn’t losing or gaining weight. If we do notice a change, we’ll talk with you about why that might be happening and plan next steps together.
Give Us a Call!
If you notice that your pet is behaving differently or if your pet just seems off, contact us right away. We want to catch anything that isn’t normal as soon as possible. Otherwise, we look forward to seeing your senior pet twice a year for his or her senior wellness exam and early disease screening tests. Call us to schedule your senior pet’s wellness exam today.
*References (all accessed December 30, 2020):
- American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS). Osteoarthritis in dogs. org/small-animal/osteoarthritis-in-dogs.
- Godfrey DR. Osteoarthritis in cats: a retrospective radiological study. J Small Anim Pract. 2005;46(9):425-429. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16167592/.
- Hardie EM, Roe SC, Martin FR. Radiographic evidence of degenerative joint disease in geriatric cats: 100 cases (1994-1997). 2002;220(5):628-632. avmajournals.avma.org/doi/abs/10.2460/javma.2002.220.628.
Lascelles BDX, Henry JB 3rd, Brown J, et al. Cross-sectional study of the prevalence of radiographic degenerative joint disease in domesticated cats. Vet Surg. 2010;39(5):535-544. onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1532-950X.2010.00708.x.