Advancements in veterinary medical knowledge and technology, coupled with strengthening of the bond between us and our pets have led to our pets living longer, happy lives. However, senior pets have unique needs and diseases associated with aging. Dogs and cats are generally considered seniors at around 7-10 years of life, depending on their breed and body weight. Many of the outward changes that we see in our senior pets are often attributed to “just being old”, but it is important to remember that age isn’t a disease, and often times “being old” is actually a medical problem that requires our attention.
“He’s just slowing down” is a common phrase that I hear in the exam room from my dog owners. My cat owners often comment that their aging kitty isn’t jumping as frequently or that he is missing his target when he is jumping. It is often considered normal by many of us when our beloved pet is slower when standing after laying down for a while, or slower going up the stairs. Slowing down is often a sign of a medical condition, such as arthirits, which can greatly affect our pets’ quality of life.
Arthritis is a painful inflammatory condition of the joints, often secondary to aging. In addition to slowing down, other signs of arthritis include being grouchy, not wanting to be touched or petted (especially over the arthritic areas), or sleeping more. These signs can also be due to other medical conditions, so it is important to consult with your veterinarian if you are concerned.
Many simple things can be done at home to help your arthritic pet live more comfortably. Weight loss is the first step that many arthritic pets will benefit from. Even a couple of pounds of weight loss in a larger dog can greatly reduce the amount of stress on the joints. Exercise is a great way to acheive this goal, as well as to get your pet’s muscles moving to maintain good muscle mass. Provide plenty of soft, padded bedding. Fish oil and certain joint supplements are a cost-effective way to help support the joints and to alleviate inflammation. These recommendations may be important to follow in our younger animals as a way to help slow the rate of development of arthritis, too. Ask your veterinarian before starting your pet on a weight loss and exercise routine and before starting any type of supplement.
Senior pets are more likely to develop health-related problems that can affect their well-being, so it is important to have your senior pet checked by your veterinarian every 6 months. Remember, our pets can not talk to us and tell us that their hip is sore, but your veterinarian may be able to find subtle changes on their physical exam that reveal that indeed your pet may be favoring a limb or that his neck or back is a little sore.
Celebrate your senior pet! Every day that we have with them is a gift!