As our pets age they often face common age-related health challenges, just as we do as we get older. It can be difficult to tell if an animal is ill or in pain as they tend not to act sick until the condition is severe. This is why preventative health care and monitoring is so important in animals. A lot of conditions can be managed more successfully if caught early. It is important to bring your pet in for regular check-ups, especially as they age so your veterinarian can look for some of these more common issues.
Many senior pets suffer from arthritis pain. You may notice your pet limping or walking stiffly. Sometimes they may be reluctant to run, climb stairs or jump up and down from heights. If you notice these signs be sure to mention them to your vet as they can do a more focused exam looking for the source of the arthritis. They can also recommend special diets, supplements or pain medications to help your pet be more comfortable and have better mobility. Sometimes soreness can be a sign of something more serious so an X-ray or blood test may be recommended to confirm that arthritis is truly the source of pain.
Dental disease is another condition that progresses as a pet gets older. Pretty much all senior pets have oral health issues to some degree. Pets with dental issues may be reluctant to eat hard foods or have swellings on their face/jaw. Often animals will continue eating normally and not show signs of a dental problem despite having severe disease. Dental disease is very painful as anyone who has had a tooth ache can attest to. Often affected animals will have several infected teeth which is equivalent to having multiple tooth aches at once! Brushing your pets teeth and using specially formulated dental diets will help prevent dental disease but they work best when started on young animals with healthy mouths. Once there are dental issues present typically the best treatment is a dental cleaning, x-rays and extraction of diseased teeth if needed.
Cognitive dysfunction is the veterinary term for signs of dementia seen in older dogs and cats. This occurs gradually over years so signs can be difficult for owners to notice. Disorientation is common, seen as wandering aimlessly, pacing or staring into space. Often the pet becomes more withdrawn and does not interact with the owner as frequently or in the same ways as they used to. These animals often are more active at night and typically have issues with anxiety and restlessness. House soiling can start to occur or the pet can forget commands they previously learned. A decline in overall activity or constantly repeating the same activity is common. There is no cure for cognitive dysfunction however there are techniques that can be employed to try and minimize the effect the condition has on a pet’s quality of life and their bond with their owner. This includes actions the owner can take as well as diet, supplements or sometimes even medication. Specific diseases can also mimic the signs of cognitive dysfunction so it is crucial that any pet that is suspected to suffer from the condition have an exam and possibly additional testing at a veterinary clinic to rule out another cause.
Unfortunately it is inevitable that as our pets age they will be more likely to encounter issues with their health. Often animals will take a certain degree of illness or pain in stride and not act sick. Regular healthcare is crucial especially in older pets. Even if they appear healthy there are often issues under the surface that if dealt with promptly can lead to longer happier lives.
This article has been prepared by Dr. Nicci Bachman from the Beasejour Animal Hospital.