A Message from the Vet - December 2012
Geriatric Pet Care

Just like their owners, pets are living healthier and longer lives with better advances in veterinary care and improved diets. With age, though, come special considerations in geriatric care.

How do you know if your pet is old? Most dogs and cats are considered geriatric by age 7! Studies have shown aging changes in 7 year old cats and small dogs are equivalent to changes in a 45 year old human, whereas a 7 year old large dog has changes equivalent to a 55 year old human. Rats are considered geriatric by 1 year, guinea pigs by 3 years, and rabbits by 5 years. Some birds and reptiles can live much longer, even outliving their owners!

The types of health problems that we commonly see in aging pets include cancer, heart disease, kidney failure, liver failure, joint issues, senility, and weakness. As your pets age, they will require more attention to make sure they are staying happy and healthy as long as possible. We recommend veterinary visits at least twice a year for early detection and treatment of any illness. Bloodwork may be performed to screen for common geriatric illnesses. Dental care, diet changes, and exercise changes may be recommended. As pets develop signs of mental aging (senility) or decreased mobility, you may need to make changes around the house to keep him or her comfortable and safe.

As your pet's closest friend, you have the opportunity to look for early signs of illness at home. Common signs to look for are changes in behavior, decreased appetite, weight loss, change in thirst or urination, vomiting, coughing, decreased exercise tolerance, and abnormal swellings or wounds that don't heal.

Arthritis is one of the most common diseases we see in geriatric pets, especially large dogs. Signs of arthritis include limping, decreased activity, difficulty standing, and difficulty with stairs. If you suspect your pet may have arthritis, have your veterinarian examine your pet to provide the appropriate treatment recommendations. Often, treatment consists of maintaining a healthy weight for your pet, providing pet-safe medication to relive the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis, and adding in joint supplements such as glucosamine/chondroitin and Omega-3 fatty acids. Some environmental changes may be needed such as padded orthopedic beds, ramps, and raised feeding dishes.

In caring for our aging friends, sometimes we reach the limits of medical treatment or the point where supportive care no longer keeps a pet happy and comfortable. At this stage, you may face the decision of euthanasia, which is an option to relieve your pet's suffering by providing a peaceful and painless passage from this life. Read more about euthanasia here.

We know many companion pets are truly some of the best friends we can have. The many scientific advances we have developed in animals to help treat disease and extend life in both animals and people are amazing. As veterinarians, we hope to help you and your pet enjoy each precious year together, happy and healthy from youth into the golden years.

Jill Yoshicedo, DVM

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Last updated 2014 May 10.