Diet, exercise,and medical advances not only benefit humans but are working to add years and enhance the quality of their pet's lives, too! Medical well care advice that veterinarians offer owners of aging pets is similar to preventive programs for people--weight control, exercise, regular examinations and testing for early disease detection, prevention, and control. Most veterinary experts agree that just like their people, pets are living longer and stronger but few agree on the actual length of time that the animals' lives have increased. It does seem that in our patient population at Animal Health Care of Marlboro our "kids" are living longer. The oldest cat in our practice was Patty, a 26 1/2 year old cat who had surgery to remove a tumor at age 26 and did great! Who says age is a reason not to use anesthesia for those in need of care?? We can formulate individualized protocols for each of our patients with appropriate safety steps and drugs, and monitoring for the patient and the procedure. And, our oldest dog, Boomer, was 19 and change when he left us.
So it's not the pet's actual age that is so important, it's the "mileage" that the animal shows. As our pets age, owners may notice physical signs including weight gain or loss, thinning and greying of coats and muzzles, bad breath, behavioral changes, arthritis, hearing and vision loss, and inappropriate elimination.
Problems that aren't so noticeable can be potentially fatal if left untreated. Cancer is the number one, non accidental cause of death in dogs and cats. Other common ailments in our aging pets include kidney failure, dental problems, and heart disease. The key to controlling these problems is to detect the diseases early through annual visits to the veterinarian.
While medical advances help pets live longer, care at home and lifestyle are still the keys to increasing the quality and length of our pets' lives. Veterinarians agree that life stage diet recommendations and weight control are important factors for the aging pet. Read those labels on pet foods: does it really make sense that one food can be appropriate for "all life stages"? I don'think so. And, some foods are meant for intermittent or supplemental feeding only:(
Excessive quantities of pet food, over-supplementation with "table food" (because who would feed their pets "scraps"?) and other treats cause obesity in cats and dogs. Adding oils and fats to food to enhance the pet's coats, for example can increase the total calorie intake sometimes up to 40% and can also lead to serious health problems such as pancreatitis which often requires intensive in- hospital care and can be life threatening.
Recent studies have shown pets, like their people, need less calories as they age. One study showed that Labrador retrievers at the age of 7 years required 30% fewer calories than their younger counterparts. And, because cats are not small dogs, some cats will need higher calories and increased fat content if they have kidney or thyroid disease: both very common problems in our aging cat population. Veterinarians can help sort all the diet choices and formulations and we will counsel our pet parents on the correct amount and type of foods.
Exercise and environmental stimulation needs to be paramount in our discussions for both proper weight control and also to help with doggie dementia and kitty brain functions. Regular, consistent workouts walking your dog or playing with your cat will help those creaking joints, too. No weekend warriors please: avoid strenuous and sporadic exercise! Think of yourself as your pet's personal trainer.
Bathing and grooming patterns also change as pets age. Our groomers can help with more frequent bathing and clipping of those sanitary areas to prevent infections and discomfort. Sometimes special conditioners and shampoos can help and the frequency of bathing will depend on the climate in which the pets lives as well as their health status.
Sleeping arrangements may need to be altered for the older pet. Dogs and cats who develop arthritis need soft surfaces upon which to sleep and access to stairs may be limited for safety reasons. Pets who spend most of their time outdoors may need to begin sleeping indoors or in a warmer part of the house. Cat owners should make litter boxes more accessible and may need to add litter boxes on each floor to prevent "out of box" experiences! Some cats have problems jumping so their feeding stations may need adjustment especially if their food bowls have been kept off the floor to prevent the dog from eating the cat food.
Regular dental cleaning and care becomes even more important as our pets age. Infection, pain and even tumors can be significant problems. Proper dental care throughout the lives of our pets is crucial in preventing and treating problems. Early diagnosis can lead to better outcomes and prevention of pain and problems.
While many problems in older pets cannot be avoided as they are part of the normal aging process, pet owers who practice preventative care along with a sensible diet and routine exercise are providing their beloved pets the best chance to llive a longer, healthier life.