Dogs (& Cats) are Man’s Best Friends 

The dog is considered to be man’s best friend, but for many people our pets, whether they are dog, cat, horse or even birds, are like a part of our family. As a result of improved veterinary care and research over the years, our pets are now living longer, fuller lives along with us. However, this aging population of pets also comes with a different set of age related health issues. 


How old is your pet? 

First we must define what is considered to be a senior pet. For dogs & cats the rule of  ‘1 human year= 7 dog years’ ,is a fair judgement, however giant and large breed dogs age faster and are thought to be senior by 6-8 years , while cats and small breed dogs reach seniority at 8-10 years. 

Prevention is better than cure 

Care for the aging pet starts with a good dose of prevention, which involves an annual or semi-annual visit to your veterinarian to help detect any developing issues whether through examination, blood tests, radiographs or other tests. The most commonly encountered issues may be arthritis, dental health, heart/kidney/liver disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity and changes in their hearing or sight. 

Common concerns among aging pets 

Arthritis and other bone/joint diseases may be detected at home by a pet whose movement has slowed down, plays less, tires easy, or is unable to get up without showing discomfort. The pain associated with these conditions can be alleviated with medications prescribed by your veterinarian, as well as use of glucosamine / chondroitin oral supplements to help preserve the joints. In addition, owners can provide a soft mat or warmer area for the animal to lie down. 

If the senior pet has never had a dental cleaning, there will be a large amount of plaque/tartar deposits on the teeth, bad breath, gum disease and possibly a few rotten teeth requiring extraction. This can cause your pet to refuse food, and lose weight, which can lead to further health concerns. If you are unable to brush your pet’s teeth, it is advisable to arrange for a cleaning by the vet, in addition to trying some dental treats to maintain oral hygiene. In the event that the animal has already lost several teeth, then their diet should be adjusted to something softer and easier to chew. 

As a normal part of aging, our organ functions slowly deteriorate, and as your heart, liver and kidney are some of the hardest working organs, they tend to show signs of aging first. Some signs to look out for are coughing, exercise intolerance, vomiting, abdominal distention, urinary incontinence, increased thirst or urination and weight loss especially if the pet still appears to be eating. Unfortunately for diseases of these organs your pet requires a prompt trip to the vet to determine the seriousness of the condition, and may need to remain on medication for the remainder of their lives. 

Cancer is silent predator for many people, and animals are no different. In fact, cancer in dogs has a similar rate of occurrence as humans, while cats have a lower chance of developing tumors. Some cancers are highly preventable with spaying and neutering of pets, such as mammary, uterine, testicular and prostatic cancers. Early detection of lumps on your pet will allow prompt treatment, and may save a life. 

Obesity is also a major health concern and not just for senior pets. Your pet should be encouraged to exercise from young, and then match their activity level with their age. So whether a short walk or long beach run, keep to a regular routine, as it not only keeps them lean, but also maintains heart and joint health. In addition, senior pets should be fed a balanced low calorie diet, with added omega fatty acids. 

Some pets may seem irritable with age, and though this can be due to senility, it may also be a result of deteriorating vision and hearing. Cataract, glaucoma with bulging of the eyeball, and ‘dry eye’ are a few conditions that affect vision. If your pet isn’t seeing or hearing you approach them, they may become aggressive when startled by your presence, so it’s best to always vocalize your approach by talking or heavy walking. 

Animals have feelings too 

In conclusion, pets like family, have feelings too, and sometimes all it takes is a little show of compassion and love to make their day brighter, and reward their loyalty to you.  

Dr Laura Hutchinson, Trinity Animal Clinic