Have you noticed that dear old Rover is not the playful puppy he used to be? How about that Chloe the cat is no longer jumping up onto the kitchen counter to watch you make dinner? Your pet slowing down is not necessarily considered normal. It can be a sign of other changes to your pet’s body that may be causing discomfort. As your cat or dog ages, it is important to learn about and recognize the many aging changes your pet may start to display. Learning to recognize these signs can help your pet live more comfortably, or may allow you to help catch disease processes early before they become a serious illness and allow you to seek treatment for your pet.
Arthur Itis is visiting your pet, and he is not moving out any time soon.
Most commonly, people think that a pet having less energy is just because the pet is old, but this could be due to arthritis. Arthritis is inflammation of the joints, which can cause pain and stiffness to the joints affected. Both cats and dogs can have arthritis in any joint, and sometimes even in their spine. Signs commonly seen with arthritis can include limping or lameness, decrease in activity or changes in normal behaviors, sleeping more than usual, and the pet may bite or growl at the family if the painful area is touched.
Arthritis is not curable, but there are things we can do to help our pets be more comfortable. There are options for glucosamine supplements, or anti-inflammatory medications and prescription diets such as Hill’s j/d. Some veterinary clinics also offer laser therapy to help with joint inflammation. It is also important to keep your pet exercising to help with keeping his or her joints moving and not getting as stiff, but you also must be careful in not over-exercising your pet. Buying a ramp to help your pet get up onto furniture or buying a padded bed to help provide some cushioning may also help keep your pet comfortable. It is important to visit the veterinarian if you start noticing these signs, because stiffness and limping can also be signs of other diseases such as elbow or hip dysplasia and in some instances bone cancer.
Gaining wisdom about weight
Weight loss or weight gain is another noticeable aging change. Your pet should be tested to rule out intestinal parasites, but disease processes such as diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, and hyperthyroidism (in cats) can all cause weight loss. Pets that are obese are more likely to develop diabetes. Common signs of diabetes include increased drinking and urination, hunger, and weight loss. Kidney disease is often times due to loss of organ function from aging. Signs often seen with kidney disease are weight loss, decreased appetite, lethargy, increased drinking, and urination can be affected in many ways from excessive to decreased urination, urination at night or blood in the urine. Hypothyroidism can cause weight gain, even if your pet is eating normally. Common signs of hypothyroidism include: weight gain and areas of hair loss (not shedding).
If you notice any of these signs, it is important to have your pet seen by your veterinarian. Most of these diseases can be tested for by running blood work and urinalysis. The earlier the disease is detected, the more likely quality of life and longevity can be increased with treatment. Most of these diseases can be treated with medications and dietary changes. There are a few other diseases that could affect your pet with the same symptoms, so testing is very important to make sure your pet is getting the appropriate treatment.
As pets age, they can develop a heart murmur. A heart murmur is an indication that the blood flow through the heart is not completely smooth. Sometimes this can be due to a valve weakening and not closing properly, but for some pets this is an early indication of heart disease. Heart disease is more common in the small breeds of dogs, but if your dog or cat is seven years or older it is important for them to have routine physical exams to check for any abnormalities. Common signs associated with heart disease include coughing, exercise intolerance, and a pot-bellied appearance. Heart disease cannot be reversed, but there are medications that could help your pet.
Lumps, Bumps, and Masses, Oh My!
Many aging pets will develop some type of mass or lump on their bodies. While some masses are not concerning, others can be cancerous. It is important to have any mass checked when you notice it because if a mass is cancerous, the longer it is there the more of a chance there is that the cancer could spread. By doing this, we can assess how big the lump is, and if it continues to grow we can monitor the growth rate. We can also note if the lump is soft or firm and if any changes occur, and can help you decide if surgery is something to consider to get it removed.
To pee or not to pee can be uncontrollable for your pet.
Urinary incontinence can occur in aging pets. This is more prominent in dogs, and most commonly affects female dogs. Sometimes, it seems like we just have to live with this, or make an indoor pet stay in the garage or maybe move outdoors. But the good news is that there is medication that can help control the urinary incontinence. This will reduce your frustration about cleaning up messes and allow you to keep your pet in the house with you.
Another common aging change you may notice is that your pet may not see or hear as well as they used to. Even though there are not usually options for these types of issues to be treated, it is still important to recognize these in your pets. It may be safer to keep your dog on a leash instead of letting him or her run freely, as he or she could venture away from the house. If you have stairs in your house, it may be safer to gate off that area to the house, so that your pet is on the same level and less likely to fall and become injured.
Our recommendation for senior pets at the Thorntown Veterinary Clinic is to see your senior pets every six months to monitor their health for any changes or signs of disease. When our pets get older, they age faster than we do, and in six months there can sometimes be pretty big changes concerning their health. Seeing your senior pets every six months gives us the opportunity to discuss with you any changes that you may be noticing, and also provides a chance for us to monitor their health more closely. We also offer annual blood work to assess internal organ function to check for signs of disease occurring inside the body that may not be noticeable during physical examination. Most pets do not act sick until the disease has progressed significantly, so testing routinely with blood work is another way to monitor the health of your pet.