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Care of the Senior Pet

by: Nancy M. Gerhardt, DVM

Because pet owners are taking better care of their companion animals and due to many advances in veterinary medicine, there is an increase in the number of "senior pets." According to some authorities, a dog or cat of average breed is considered "senior at seven."

As a pet ages, the incidence of infectious disease decreases and that of age-related disease increases. While vaccination may be important for older pets, a twice-yearly physical examination with an annual complete blood count, chemistry profile including a thyroid test and parasite check are even more critical whether or not obvious signs of illness are present. Laboratory work prior to general anesthesia is also increasingly important and in many cases a urinalysis is also warranted.

Heart problems which may be potentially serious may be detected upon examination or upon chest radiographs and/or an electrocardiogram. Kidney or thyroid disease may be detected in the earlier stages thus allowing treatment which may improve the length and quality of the pet's life. Unless a prescription diet is recommended by your veterinarian, a quality senior diet is important. Geriatric vitamins containing antioxidants and other nutraceuticals are also helpful.

Years ago, pets were commonly euthanized due to illnesses that were not safely treatable. Advances in safer anesthesia allow older pets to have dentistry and surgery for tumors and other conditions that were "let go" years ago. Also, there are advances in prescription treatments to relieve the discomfort of arthritis and to improve the quality of life of dogs with cognitive dysfunction which used to be regarded as an inevitable consequence of aging with no possible help.

Do you have an older pet? Ask your veterinarian for a wellness plan suited to your particular furry friend. He or she will be happy to plan for you and your pet to enjoy life together for as many years as possible!