Thursday, July 29, 2010

Senior Pets

Hi my peeps!

Hope you are enjoying your summer. Talking to Milo about his elderly roommate and having one myself, made me think of today's topic - Senior Pets.
With all the advancements in veterinarian medicine, pets live longer lives these days, but not without some challenges. Senior pets not only face issues such as physical, behavioral, and sensory changes, but also have to deal with more health problems. However, aging doesn't have to be a struggle. There are many things our humans can do to make our senior years much more comfortable and pleasant.
First, let's talk about some basic facts. Most cats live longer than dogs. Small dogs usually live longer than large dogs. On the average, a dog's life span is between 10 and 15 years and a cat's life span ranges from 15 to 20 years. There can be extremes on either end. One pet year is approximately the equivalent of five to seven human years. Given these facts, we can assume that a 10 year old pet is approaching his or her senior years. This means visits to the veterinarian for regular checkups should be more frequent, ideally every six months. The exam should include listening to the heart and lungs, body temperature, checking ears and teeth, as well as some tests to establish a base line. After that, tests can be done as needed for re-checks. The tests for a base line are the following:
Complete Blood Count: A count of the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. This test shows if there is an infection, an anemia, or a blood clotting problem present.
Blood Chemistry: A count of electrolytes, enzymes, and chemical elements in the blood. This test lets us know how well the vital organs are functioning.
Thyroid Test: This tests the function of the thyroids.
Urine Analysis: This test shows if there is anything in the urine that should not be there such as protein, sugar, blood, or bacteria. Presence of any of these can mean kidney problems, diabetes, or infections. It also shows whether the urine is diluted or concentrated which can mean kidney problems or dehydration.
Fecal Analysis: This test shows the presence of parasites or a digestive problem.
Now, let us talk about some of the changes that senior pets can encounter such as physical, behavioral, nutritional, and sensory changes as well as changes in exercise.
Physical changes: The response to infections in elderly pets is decreased which means they have a harder time fighting infections. Also, with old age comes osteoarthritis. That means it's much harder to get up, lie down, walk up stairs, jump up, and walk in general. Walking is much slower than it used to be and it's also harder to climb into the litter box which can have the result of inappropriate eliminations. Grooming becomes a lot harder too and often results in matted fur and an increased amount of dandruff.
Behavioral Changes: Older pets can be a little noisier than they used to be due to hearing loss. As we all know, when someone doesn't hear well, they talk louder. Well, pets do the same thing. That also means they get startled easily when you approach them and they can't hear you. Another problem that can occur in elderly pets is inappropriate elimination, may it be due to arthritis pain, confusion, or a medical problem.
Nutritional Changes: Older pets are less active and their metabolism is much slower. They can easily become obese. Others can have problems with digestion and lose weight. Certain medical problems can affect the appetite and others can call for different diets altogether. Water consumption can be increased because of kidney problems or diabetes and ironically, the same diseases can cause dehydration.
Sensory changes: Hearing loss and cataracts are some of the sensory changes in senior pets. The taste and smell can be affected as well which can result in loss of appetite. Older pets are more sensitive to temperature changes. They can become intolerant to heat or cold.
Change in exercise: It's harder to move when you have osteoarthritis and thus, older pets become more sedentary. Going for a walk or playing with the toy mouse used to be fun but when the bones hurt, it becomes a chore.
As you can see, Bette Davis had a good point when she said: Old age ain't no place for sissies. Nevertheless, there are things that can be done to make the golden years more comfortable for your pet companion and I would like to tell you about them now.
First, I would like to introduce you to a great website that offers many care products for the senior pet. Here you can find anything from piddle pads to wheelchairs and all at a very affordable price. The link to it is: . Check it out, you'll find things on there, you'd never thought existed.
Now, let's talk about what can be done to help with the physical changes in senior pets. Osteoarthritis is very common in aging pets. It turns climbing up stairs, getting into the car, and jumping on the sofa into a chore. There is a great supplement by the name of Glucosamine which can ease the pain, lubricate the joints, and can be mixed with food. Ask your veterinarian for the right dosage. Glucosamine can be found over the counter at any drug store or health food store.
Also, there are many gadgets available such as ramps for the car, steps to put in front of the sofa or bed, and elevated food dishes for the pet with arthritis in the neck. For the ones that have an extremely hard time getting around, slings for assistant walking as well as wheelchairs that can be fitted to the exact size of the pet can offer a great relieve.
Senior pets often have changes in behavior which can be expressed through inappropriate elimination. It is important to rule out a bladder infection by means of a urine analysis first. Once it is established as a behavioral issue, pets can be restricted to an area where the cleanup is easier, for instance to a room with tile floors. Some kitties have a hard time squatting down all the way and thus, urinate over the rims of the litter box. Puppy Pads or also known as Piddle Pads are of great help when placed around the litter box. The litter box should be in an easily accessible spot and low enough for kitty to climb in despite the aching bones.
Many senior pets, may it be due to arthritis or weakness, don't groom themselves as they used to and end up with matted fur. We can help by brushing them on a regular basis or by shaving the problem areas in long haired dogs and long haired cats. It is also a good idea to check the rear end and clean with baby wipes since it is much harder for the senior pet to reach these areas them self. And since we are talking about cleaning, it's a good idea to check the eyes and ears for discharge and clean them with a moist tissue.
As pets grow older, their nutritional needs change. Since their activity level is not the same as it was when they were younger, many of them become obese when fed the same amount and the same kind of food as in their younger days. As we all know, obesity can lead to diabetes. So we should adjust the food according to their activity level and also read the labels to make sure it's a balanced diet.
An ideal diet for a senior pet should have a moderate amount of protein to help maintain the muscles and minimize the workload of the kidneys. It should have a gentle increase in fiber which helps in regulating bowel movements. Sodium content of the food should be low because too much sodium in the diet can cause hypertension and bladder stones. The diet should be rich in vitamins or at least supplemented with a multivitamin in order to avoid vitamin deficiencies. Fatty acids are another very important part of the senior diet because they are good for the skin and the coat as well as promote heart, kidney, and joint health.
In order to ease the workload on the stomach, it might be a good idea to serve smaller but more frequent meals throughout the day. For the ones that have lost a good amount of teeth over the years, a softer diet is welcome. If your senior pet has an illness that calls for a specific diet,please consult your veterinarian for the appropriate diet.
Please make sure your friend always has plenty of fresh and clean water. Certain diseases increase urination and pets can become dehydrated especially during hot weather. There is a simple test you can do to see if your pet is dehydrated. Pull up the skin at the scruff (that is the area by the neck, in between the shoulder blades) to make a tent. In a well hydrated pet, the skin should go down again right away. If the skin stays up or goes down very slowly, it indicates dehydration.
As pets grow older, they can undergo changes of the sensory systems. Some get cataracts and have a hard time finding their way around the house. In that case, it might be wise to confine them to certain areas in the house and maybe put a child gate up by stairs so they don't fall down. When you walk a dog with cataracts by a street, please put him or her on a leash. It just takes one step off of the sidewalk and your friend could get hit by a car. Cats that have problems with their vision should not be allowed to wander unsupervised.
Hearing loss is another byproduct of old age. Pets often get startled when touched while sleeping or approached from behind. It is wise to let an elderly pet wake up first before you start petting it and also to approach the pet from the front so it can see you.
The sense of taste and smell can be greatly diminished in a senior pet which can lead to a loss of appetite. Sometimes you just have to try different foods and encourage the pet to eat. If all fails, ask your veterinarian about appetite stimulants. They do have side effects when taken over a longer period of time but can work wonders when taken over shorter periods.
Many senior pets are intolerant to cold and heat. So please, don't leave your pet in the car when it is warm outside because it gets a lot warmer in the car. And that actually goes for all pets no matter what age they are. On cool days, you can provide a heating pad at low setting inside the favorite bed.
As old age approaches, senior pets become more sedentary and might not enjoy long walks as they used to. We can help them by taking them on shorter and more frequent walks. The same goes for cats. The feline that used to chase toy mice around the house, naps most of the day now. Nevertheless, I am sure they still enjoy sitting on a warm lap and being the recipient of some gentle scratches under the chin. Exercise can be replaced by extra attention now.
As you can see, there is much that can be done to make the senior years of our beloved pets easier and more enjoyable. However, sometimes problems arise. Pets get sick and display signs. We should not ignore these signs but consult a veterinarian. I would like to give you a list of signs that definitely call for a visit to the doctor. Here they are:
  • Change of water consumption
  • Decrease or increase of appetite
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Change in house breaking
  • Lameness
  • Open sores that are not healing
  • Foul odor from mouth
  • Lethargy
  • Panting and labored breathing during rest
  • Blood in stool or urine
  • Sudden weakness
  • Persistent coughing
  • Seizures

If you see any of these signs in your pet please make an appointment with your veterinarian and have it checked. It is better to be safe than sorry.

Well my friends, that was a lot of information but I hope it helped to make you feel more comfortable with the thought of your pet companion becoming a senior. And remember what Groucho Marx once said: Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough. So, may all of you and your lovely companions live long enough to reach the golden years and enjoy them as much as you can.

Love and Peace,


1 comment:

  1. Hey Tiny

    Great article especially since I have an older cat. Keep these articles coming. Love your blog!

    And a big bow-wow to you.