Because of improvements in health care and nutrition our pets are living longer and healthier lives. It is not unusual to discover problems as your pet ages. This is a natural part of the life process. However, when problems are detected early they can usually be managed more effectively. As pets age, a whole new set of aging conditions may arise. We are continuously learning how best to diagnose, treat, and manage these age-related complications.
Ultimately, it is always the owner’s decision to choose the level of care for their pet, but we will always be advocates for their health, comfort, and well-being. We also feel that it is our responsibility to offer the best tests, procedures, and treatments that will keep your pet healthy and free from disease.
Everyone has probably heard the old adage that for every human year, your pet ages 7 years. While this is a good estimate for cats and smaller dogs, large breed dogs tend to have shorter life spans.
HUMAN YEAR EQUIVALENT FOR OLDER PETS
|Human years (*dog size lbs)
|Small – Medium: 44-47
|Large – Very large: 50-56
|Small – Medium: 56-60
|Large – Very large: 66-78
|Small – Medium: 76-83
|Large – Very large: 93-115
|Small – Medium: 96-105
|*Small: 0-20 lbs; Medium: 21-50 lbs; Large: 51-90 lbs; Very large: >90 lbs The oldest recorded age of a cat is 34 years. The oldest recorded age of a dog is 29 years.
(charts taken from www.avma.org)
As pet’s age, things that are commonly seen in geriatric pets include cancer, heart disease, renal (kidney) insufficiencies, liver and splenic disease, Diabetes, joint and bony changes, and senility. Feel free to talk to our veterinarians to discuss age-related changes and how to be prepared. Things to expect may include dietary changes (caloric changes, more easily digested foods, etc), changes in your home (avoiding stairs, more time indoors, ramps, etc.), and more frequent vet visits (monitoring by ultrasound or bloodwork, dental care, medications, etc.).
Behavior changes are something that is seen more frequently than in previous years. Some of these changes may include increased vocalization, sleeping more, less interaction with humans in the home, increased anxiety, accidents in the house, excessive licking or grooming, changes in sleep patterns, or just wandering around. These symptoms need to be discussed with your veterinarian. Unfortunately, in a 30-60 minutes appointment the veterinarian will usually not notice these changes that you maybe seeing at home.
Pets can have a decrease in cognitive function. Studies have shown changes in their brains similar to humans with Alzheimer’s disease. Even though tests are being developed for aging changes, researchers have still been unable to find a genetic predisposition to these cognitive changes. The good news is that there are several medications and even a couple of diet options that may help manage such behavioral changes in your pet. If you are concerned about senility changes, please talk to one of our veterinarians.
Cancer is another major concern with pet owners as their pets age. Studies show that nearly 50% of pets over the age of 10 will have some type of cancer. Some cancers may be more frequently found in cats than dogs. There are multiple ways to diagnose cancer such as radiographs, blood test, ultrasound, and fine needle aspirates all may help in diagnosis. Advancements in cancer treatment have also improved. Some cancers may only need surgical removal while others may respond best to chemotherapy. Many of these options are available at Shelley Drive Animal Clinic. Referrals to other larger and specialized hospitals can be made if our doctors and/or owners feel like that is a better option for their companion.
Dogs and cats can develop arthritic changes just like people. Arthritis is a normal age-related change. Large dogs maybe more vulnerable to these types of changes. Some signs that you may see at home include limping or favoring a leg, trouble standing up, acting stiff in the joints, hesitancy or refusal to jump, run, or climb, and decrease activity. Radiographs may help in diagnosing arthritis. Some things that can help a pet with arthritis include pain medications, pharmaceutical grade joint supplements, specific diets to help with increased mobility, and maintaining a healthy weight. Do not give your pet “over-the-counter” human pain medications as these can be toxic and potentially deadly!
One of the hardest decisions you will ever be faced with is choosing to end your pet’s pain and suffering. Sometimes the answer will seem very obvious but at other times it may not be as clear. Do not feel embarrassed to have an open discussion with one of our doctors about euthanasia and quality of life.
Some questions to ask yourself are: How often do I think my pet is in pain? Is my pet eating on their own or is someone having to hand feed him? Is my pet staying hydrated? Is my pet able to take care of him/herself – as in grooming and eliminating? Does my pet still act happy? Is he/she doing things that they have always enjoyed or are they secluded and sedentary? Are they able to walk with out assistance? Do you think that your pet is having more bad days than good days? These are all good questions to ask yourself, but should not be the only things taken into consideration when evaluating quality of life. It is ultimately your decision, but our staff is here to help.