Growing older is a fact of life that we all must deal with. Most of us would like to grow older gracefully. Proper diet, vitamins, regular exercise and routine medical check-ups are a basic part of our lives. But what about our pets? Did you know that dogs at 6 years of age are considered 40 years old in human terms, and at 9 years their age is equivalent to 52 in human years? Statistically, we also know that large breeds of dogs live an average of nine to ten years, whereas small breeds live an average of twelve to thirteen years or more.
We recommend the following steps in caring for your older pet:
Feed a diet appropriate for your pet’s needs. Some geriatric patients will benefit from diets designed for older animals. It is advisable to control obesity at any age, but this becomes even more important as a pet ages. Closely monitor your pet’s water consumption. A persistent increase in thirst might be an early sign of a problem such as diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, adrenal gland disease or uterine disease.
Routine grooming is essential. Tumors are more common in older patients and should be brought to your veterinarian’s attention. Check the skin closely for parasites. Fleas and ticks can debilitate an older pet.
Regular dental cleaning is recommended. Various products are available for home care, including toothpastes and oral cleansing gels. When used regularly, these will help prevent tartar formation and gum disease. One of the leading causes of kidney disease in dogs and cats is infection spreading throughout the body from chronic periodontal disease.
Physical exams play an important role in patient evaluations. Early diagnosis often increases the chance of successful treatment.
Some diseases cannot be detected physically. As your pet approaches ten years of age, a more complete look at internal organ function is a good idea. This evaluation might consist of one or more of the following screening tests:
Complete Blood Count. This test measures red blood cells and white blood cells. It will help detect anemias and other blood cell abnormalities.
Blood Chemistry Profile. This is a group of twenty-five different tests of organ function. Kidney function, liver function and blood sugar levels are measured as part of this test.
Urinalysis. Many older pets are Prone to chronic cystitis. This test will tell us if infection is present. Urine concentration is also important in evaluating kidney function.
Thyroid Hormone Test. Many older patients develop thyroid disease. The signs can be subtle and are often interpreted as normal aging.
Chest X-rays. Lung and heart diseases can sometimes be detected radiographically before they are evident physically.
Some of these tests may be indicated for your pet.