Pets, like their owners, if given the privilege, age. It is a phenomenon that is denied to many and we should be thankful for the opportunity to grow older and hopefully wiser. In veterinary medicine, we often say “Age is not a disease”. By that, we mean that just because we are old does not mean that we do not have many good years to come.
Physiologically, as we age, our body changes. The same occurs with dogs and cats and unfortunately at a faster rate. The old saying that one year equals seven years to a dog and cat is a rough estimate for aging. Pets over the age of seven are considered seniors. Pets have some of the same aging changes that we do. One that a lot of us have experienced is a change in our vision. For people, when we hit the mid-forties, most of us find that we have difficulty reading and may require more light. The same occurs with pets. The lens loses its flexibility and thus our eyes cannot adjust as readily to near and far sight. In dogs, we see this as a graying of the eye. Again, just as with their owners, a pets hearing may diminish with age too. Some believe this is worse in males of any species.
With aging, we lose the flexibility in the lens of the eye. In people, this usually occurs in the mid-forties and in dogs and cats around 7-9 years of age. This may alter their depth perception and light requirements. You may notice a graying of the lens.
The ability to hear certain tones may diminish with age. This may be complicated by ear infections, both current and past infections. Some believe the male of the species may be more severely affected. Adaptive measures may need to be taken to get your pets attention such as hand signals or whistling.
Bad breath, tartar buildup and gum inflammation can be signs of tooth damage, periodontal disease, oral cancer or systemic health issues. Dental disease can lead to heart, kidney and bone disease. Regular dental care, including dental cleanings and home care are recommended.
Arthritis is the inflammation of the joints. It can be caused by old injuries or simply years of wear and tear. Symptoms include stiffness, difficult getting up and down and limping. In cats, we may see inappropriate urination and defecation as it may be painful to get in and out of the litterbox. The diagnosis of arthritis is often made based upon the clinical symptoms, physical examination and radiographic findings. Arthritis is made worse by excess weight. Treatment includes weight management, anti-inflammatories, nutritional supplements and laser therapy.
Kidney disease is a common finding in older dogs and cats. Symptoms include increased thirst and urination, weight loss and vomiting as the disease progresses. Early detection via blood and urine testing is key to treatment.
Liver disease can present in many ways. Most commonly pets may lose weight, have a decreased appetite, changes in thirst and urination may occur, vomiting and diarrhea may be seen and in severe cases changes in the skin color (jaundice or yellow appearance to the skin). Blood testing, radiographs and ultrasound aid in the diagnosis of liver disease.
Thyroid changes can occur in both dogs and cats. Dogs tend to be hypothyroid or have decreased thyroid hormone. Symptoms include weight gain, skin and ear infections and lethargy. Cats on the other hand become hyperthyroid or develop thyroid tumors and produce excess hormones resulting in increased heart rate, increased activity, weight loss and occasionally vomiting and diarrhea. Diagnosis is based upon blood tests, history and physical examination. Both dogs and cats can be treated medically and live for years with these diseases.