As our pets age, they continue to hold a very special place in our hearts. Senior pets require additional care to help them carry on long and fulfilling lives. It is important to be aware of the changes in our senior pets’ health and to provide them the care they deserve. Here are some ways to help care for your senior pet:
Regular Health Check-Ups
It is recommended that all pets receive annual physical exams to ensure that your pet is in good health. As our pets age, it is even more important that they receive regular health care. As with people, dogs experience a number of health changes as they age. Preventative care is key to keeping your senior pet happy and healthy. It is recommended that your senior pet receive a health examination every 6 months. During each exam, your veterinarian can monitor health and recommend changes to help keep your senior pet comfortable.
At Centreville Animal Hospital, we are pleased to provide the Senior Wellness Bloodwork Panel. This panel is a wonderful aide in keeping track of your senior pet’s health. This invaluable panel measures many important body systems, including organ values, red and white blood cells, and includes an urinalysis. All of these components can tell a lot about your pet’s health. If the levels are abnormal, it can be an indicator of cancers or diseases. If such diseases are detected early, medications or dietary changes can be made to help restore health.
Senior pets are susceptible to discomfort changes such as arthritis. Sometimes your senior pet may seem stiff while getting up or moving around. This is certainly uncomfortable and can easily be managed by administering pain medication at home. A simple, daily dose can greatly impact your pet’s comfort. At Centreville Animal Hospital, we perform a pain assessment during your pet’s physical examination. By determining your pet’s level of pain, your doctor can provide recommendations for keeping your pet comfortable.
Keeping Comfortable with Rehabilitation
With aging joints and limbs, your senior pet could greatly benefit from rehabilitation exercises. After a consultation with your veterinarian, she can customize a plan that will allow you to perform exercises during rehabilitation appointments and at home. Keeping your senior pet active is very important as it will help maintain muscle mass and more comfortable movements. Acupuncture is a method of rehabilitation that involves applying very small needles to certain points of the body. This provide relief for a wide range of conditions, including relieving discomfort. Acupuncture is a painless, natural method that has been very effective for both pets and humans.
Recognizing Nutritional Needs
Your pet’s nutritional needs are important to help sustain health. What your pet consumes can greatly impact his overall health. By referring to the Senior Wellness Bloodwork Panel results, modifying and supplementing your senior pet’s diet can greatly impact the necessary vitamins and minerals your pet may be lacking as he ages. There are several prescription diets that are designed to help treat certain diseases and others for general senior care.
By recognizing changes in your pet’s health as he ages, these preventative and treatment methods will greatly impact your senior pet’s health and comfort. As pet owners, we want nothing but the best for our furry companions, and Centreville Animal Hospital is committed to providing you with options that will offer a better quality of life.
We are constantly reminded that one year of our pet’s life is equivalent to roughly seven human years, six for larger breeds. As your pet ages they need even more care and attention which is why it’s up to us to modify their veterinary care to keep them happy and healthy in their golden years.
Step-up Vet Visits to Twice a Year
A great way to contribute to your senior pet’s good health is by scheduling regular preventative exams. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommends senior pets see their vet every 6 months for a checkup. By visiting your veterinarian twice a year, they are able to identify signs of geriatric diseases earlier, including:
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
Screenings Uncover Hidden Diseases Early
Along with their increasing age come many diseases that commonly affect older pets so regular health screenings are key to catching them in the earlier stages. Proper veterinary care can then help alleviate symptoms and slow progression. Health screenings can also help identify diseases that often go undetected in the earliest stages, such as heart, kidney and liver disease.
Health screenings for a senior pet should occur twice a year and include:
- Chemistry (kidney, liver, and pancreas markers and electrolyte values)
- Complete blood cell count (red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets)
- Thyroid hormone levels
- Pro-BNP (indicator of heart disease-NEW TEST!)
Identifying these diseases and starting treatment sooner will extend our pet’s lifespan, often times by many months to years.
Maintain Mobility and Exercise
Your pet may be slowing down with age, but it doesn’t mean they can’t still go on daily walks with you. Mobility and exercise are critical to keeping your senior pet healthy. One of the most common ailments for our senior pets is arthritis, causing discomfort leading to a decreased quality of life and enjoyment of every day activities. There are several treatments for arthritis including:
- Joint supplements (glucosamine, chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids)
- Prescription pain control
- Physical therapy
Your veterinarian can help implement a treatment plan to control your pet’s discomfort and improve their quality of life that suits your family and lifestyle.
Enjoy Each Day
Aging is a privilege denied to many so monitor your senior pet’s health carefully, and schedule regular check-ups with your vet. Snuggle up, go for a leisurely walk and appreciate the time you have together.
American Association of Feline Practitioners: http://aafp.com/senior-care-guidelines.aspx
American Animal Hospital Association: https://www.aaha.org/resources/senior_care.aspx
If you have never considered rehabilitation and physical therapy for your dog, you may want to reconsider. These treatments can mean the difference between a healthy life and one filled with discomfort and pain, and may prevent you from having to make difficult decisions about how to care for a pet that is not mobile enough to live a normal life.
Many of our physical therapy patients show signs of pain and discomfort, and no longer have the muscle mass required to hold them up. This generally occurs due to an underlying issue such as an old injury, ligament tear, hip dysplasia, or other medical condition that predisposes them to cartilage wear and tear.
Physical therapy and rehabilitation treatment has been shown to provide a wide range of canine patients with the following benefits:
- Improving mobility (especially in senior dogs)
- Improving flexibility
- Reducing pain
- Decreasing need for medication
- Providing greater strength and stability
- Keeping athletic and sporting dogs active
- Enabling better athletic performance
- Encouraging faster recovery for post-surgical patients
In a future blog post we will talk about what it takes to become certified as an animal physical therapist.
Watch this video to learn more about how our physical therapy can benefit your dog, whatever its size or age.
MSN News: Physical Rehab Keeps Pets Moving
PetMD: Physical Therapy for Pets
Healthy Pets: Could This Therapy Improve Your Dog’s Mobility?
DMV News Magazine: Physical Rehabilitation: How I Transitioned from Human to Canine Patients
Arthritis is something most of us are aware of in people, but know little about in our pets. One major difference between how it affects humans and pets is that animal patients can’t tell us which body part hurts, or how badly it hurts. Arthritis (Osteoarthritis or Degenerative Joint Disease) is caused by the breakdown or deterioration of the cartilage in joints that protects and covers the joints as they move. As the cartilage deteriorates it causes the bones in the joints to rub and grind against each other, causing pain and inflammation.
Although arthritis in pets is most common in larger breeds of dogs (ranging from Great Danes and Mastiffs to Labrador and Golden Retrievers) it can also affect smaller dogs (even the tiniest such as Yorkshire Terriers and Chihuahuas) and even cats.
Signs of arthritis can range from something as subtle as a decrease in energy level (we often say a pet is “slowing down”), to holding up a limb and not walking on it at all. Here are some other signs:
- stiffness when getting up from a lying-down position
- refusal or hesitation to jump or run, or to lay or sit in a certain position
- changes in behavior, such as sudden signs of aggression, which can be a response to fear of pain
- trouble walking or getting around on slick surfaces
- lack of activity
- change in bathroom habits (dogs may be reluctant to go outside and cats may be reluctant to use the litter box)
Both dogs and cats (cats especially) are notorious for hiding signs of disease or sickness until it has substantially progressed. By the time your pet is showing significant signs of joint problems, the condition generally is in an advanced stage. The best was to keep your pet from feeling the pain of arthritis is to recognize the early warning signs and prevent the disease from going further. Managing your pet’s weight and providing adequate exercise also can reduce joint strain.
Let your veterinarian know if you see your dog having trouble getting up after laying down, or have noticed she is reluctant to go on a walk or play for more than a few minutes. Similarly, if you notice that your cat isn’t jumping on furniture as much as normal, or he isn’t using his litter box, he may be suffering from arthritis. You’ll have to do a little detective work and communicate closely with your veterinarian to distinguish whether these are symptoms of behavioral issues or a sign of a health problem. For instance, a cat that fails to use his litter box may be having a behavioral issue or may be avoiding pain caused by arthritis, since squatting or climbing in and out of a litter box can be painful.
There are simple ways to help your pet feel more comfortable and protect her joints:
- Glucosamine and Chondroitin—These can prevent further damage by helping to cushion joints and make movements less painful. NOTE: Ask about our current discount on Dasuquin, which combines avocado and soybean with Glucosamine and Chondroitin.
- Omega 3s (found in fish oil)—Helps with inflammation and is also good for the skin and heart.
- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)—These help with pain and inflammation in dogs.
IMPORTANT NOTES: Cats do not fare well with the use of NSAIDs since they are unable to process these drugs without internal damage. Over-the-counter (OTC) human medications such as Aspirin, Advil, and especially Tylenol, are very toxic to pets and can cause ulcers, bleeding, anemia, and even death. Always consult with a veterinarian before giving your pet any type of medication. If you administer OTC medication, there is a 7- to 14-day waiting period before we can give your pet other pain medications.
- Other Pain Medications—There are other options for both dogs and cats that work differently and have fewer side effects than NSAIDs, but they are generally not quite as effective.
- Joint injections—Administered during an office visit, these provide anti-inflammatory relief from arthritic joint pain.
- Physical Therapy—We offer various treatment options, depending on the nature of and severity of the condition.
If you suspect that your pet is in pain, please contact us immediately so we can diagnose the problem and start treatment. We have many ways to help prevent and treat arthritis, as well as the many other conditions affecting your pet’s health and quality of life.
Contributed by Michelle LeBlanc, Veterinary Assistant
Pictured here with her husband, Jon, and pets (left to right) Quincy, Simba, and Ducky (in back), and dog Gracie