It may seem that only yesterday you were cleaning up the millionth accident, prying your shoe out of your puppy’s mouth for the third time that morning, or trying to lie perfectly still in bed to avoid being ambushed by a frisky, foot-stalking kitten. But the years have passed, and your gangly puppy or ball-of-fluff kitten has transformed into a well-mannered—or perhaps as ornery-as-ever—adult. As their golden years approach, you need a plan to keep them living their best life for as long as possible.
Senior pet? Who, me?
Contrary to past belief, one human year does not equal seven dog years across the board. Dogs are now known to age differently based on their size and breed, so check out this handy chart to determine how old your pet is in human years. In general, cats and small dogs (i.e., less than 20 pounds) are considered seniors at 10 years of age and geriatric at 14; medium dogs (i.e., 20 to 50 pounds) are seniors at 9 years old and geriatric at 13; large dogs (i.e., 50 to 90 pounds) are seniors at 8 years of age and geriatric at 11; and extra-large dogs (i.e., more than 90 pounds) are seniors at age 7 and geriatric at 10.
Take your senior pet to the vet
At Burlington Veterinary Center, we love to see your older pets, and not only because we have built a relationship with them over the years. Our team also knows that regular veterinary care is one of the best ways to keep your pet healthy by offering these four benefits:
- Preventive healthcare — Core and lifestyle-based vaccinations, and parasite screening and preventives are every bit as important as when your pet was younger. Overweight older pets tend to have more orthopedic, skin, breathing, organ, or metabolic problems and geriatric patients may lose muscle mass over time, so a veterinary evaluation of body weight and nutrition can go far in keeping your aging pet at an adequate body condition.
- A thorough physical exam and history with an emphasis on age-related problems — At each visit, our veterinary team will evaluate your pet from nose to tail, looking for any abnormalities, and assessing your pet’s overall health status. For senior pets, we pay particular attention to:
- Eyes — Most dogs over age 7 have some degree of lenticular sclerosis (i.e., hardening of the lens) which may make them a bit farsighted. Some pets will suffer from sight-decreasing conditions, such as cataracts or retinal changes.
- Joints and mobility — Many older pets will have some degree of arthritis or neurologic compromise, and geriatric pets especially may have decreased muscle mass that over time will hinder their mobility, stability, and comfort.
- Teeth — Dental disease can affect pets of any age, but the cumulative effects of dental problems can take a toll on an older pet’s health.
- Behavior — As some pets age, they may suffer from cognitive dysfunction, which can lead to anxiety, pacing, disturbed sleep, disorientation, house soiling, wandering, or personality changes. While we can’t reverse these changes, our team can suggest medications or environmental changes to help manage these behaviors.
- Diagnostic testing for early problem detection — Combining a senior blood panel with the physical exam is a great way to get a more complete picture of your pet’s health. These tests, which evaluate organ function, cell numbers, electrolyte levels, and more, can detect potential health issues before your pet becomes symptomatic or the problem becomes more severe. IDEXX Laboratories has reported that veterinarians detected on screening tests that one out of five seemingly healthy senior pets and two out of five seemingly healthy geriatric pets had problems, further emphasizing the importance of senior bloodwork. Once a problem is identified, our Burlington Veterinary Center team will institute early interventions if warranted, and monitor your pet more closely in the future.
- A therapeutic and environmental modification plan — A plethora of medications, supplements, and environmental modifications are available to help your pet cope with age-related changes, including:
- Decreased vision — Keep the rooms of the house arranged the same way and gate off any steps to help a visually impaired pet navigate successfully and safely. Consider using scent markers or nightlights to help them find their way, and place bells on other pets to indicate their location.
- Pain and mobility issues — Our veterinarians have many tools at their disposal to maximize your pet’s comfort and mobility, because they are International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management members, and specially trained in alternative medicine, including acupuncture, and laser and massage therapy. They may also suggest a special harness to help your pet rise or walk, installing ramps or steps where possible, and using traction aids such as non-slip rubber mats, booties, or toe grips on slippery floors.
- Hearing loss — Age-related hearing loss is common and typically gradual, although you may not notice until your pet can no longer compensate. Hand signals and visual cues can help you communicate with your pet. Most pets catch on quickly, especially if you start working with them when they still have some hearing.
Is your pet classified as a senior or geriatric? If so, contact our Burlington Veterinary Center team to schedule a wellness visit and bloodwork to get your pet’s golden years started off on the right paw.