The average lifespan of dogs and cats in the United States is 7.4 years. The potential lifespan of the average dog or cat in the United States is 15 years. Comprehensive medical care, good nutrition and proper training allow pets to live up to their potential as long term family members. In other words, the care given to your pet throughout its life will determine how long he or she will remain a happy, healthy member of your family.
As pets age, two types of changes occur: age related changes and pathological changes. Age related changes, such as vision and hearing loss, are normal, and develop in most animals. These changes cannot be prevented, but we can help you and your pet adapt to these changes.
Many pathological changes or diseases can, on the other hand, be prevented or successfully treated. With care to promote health and prevent disease in senior or geriatric pets, your pet can remain healthy and active well into its twilight years.
Because of advances in medicine, and proper preventative care, pets, as well as people, are living longer, healthier lives. Physical examinations, blood tests, EKGs, blood pressure, fecal exams, X-rays and urinalyses are all performed frequently on senior or geriatric animals. This is because many common problems of this growing population of senior citizen pets, such as kidney, heart, and thyroid disease, can be treated successfully if diagnosed early.
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Bi-annual Senior Wellness Examination
Pets age more rapidly than humans. With the aging process, changes occur in the function of the body. Some of these changes can be seen from the outside: weight gain or loss, stiffness, dull hair coat, loss of sight or hearing. Regular examinations and follow up care by your veterinarian will help ensure that your pet continues to be your loving companion in the years to come. A year between physical examinations for your dog or cat is like 4-7 years between annual examinations for us. We recommend physical exams every six months for our senior patients.
Dog Age (years)
Human Age (years, based on weight)
|<20 lbs||21-50 lbs||51-90 lbs||>90 lbs|
Bi-annual Early Detection Blood Testing
An early detection blood profile is one of the most thorough, across-the-board, diagnostic tools available to a veterinarian. It shows the health of all the major organ and glandular systems including the kidney, liver and thyroid; can show evidence of low grade or chronic problems. It also provides the doctor with a window into the patient’s basic body chemistry so that we can make dietary recommendations or have a base line on which to base subsequent tests.
Some changes, however, occur internally and can't be discovered without laboratory testing. Unfortunately, by the time symptoms of illness can be seen, in liver or kidney disease for example, organ damage is already in the advanced stages.
In order to detect organ damage in its early stages, when it can be treated most successfully, we recommend bi-annual blood testing as part of your pet's bi-annual physical examination once he or she is over 7-9 years of age. These tests can also be used to provide a baseline for comparison in the event of future illness, allowing us to identify changes that may assist in faster, more accurate diagnosis and treatment.
Test results serve double duty by providing information before surgery or dental procedures, allowing for safer anesthesia.
Microscopic examination of your pet’s feces can be an excellent diagnostic tool, allowing our veterinarians to detect a number of different diseases, such as with digestion difficulty, internal bleeding, and disorders of the pancreas. Most importantly, though, this test confirms the presence of intestinal parasites, such as roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, tapeworm and giardia.
Vaccinations and the Senior Pet
Unfortunately there is no safe, effective drug available to combat any of the major viral diseases of dogs or cats. Vaccination is the only effective form of protection. Vaccination enables your dog or cat to fight infection by stimulating the immune system so it makes antibodies against the viruses.
Older pets have decreased resistance to disease, so keeping their boosters current is very important. To maintain this protection, dogs and cats must be vaccinated regularly so the level of immunity is always high enough to prevent disease. However, some experts now believe that dogs and cats over age 15 have been vaccinated so many times they may no longer need vaccines for some diseases. We may adjust our vaccine protocols when your pet becomes very elderly, and as always, we will continue with our antibody titer protocols (see below) prior to vaccinating in most cases.
After two years of age we recommend running antibody titers to help prevent over-vaccinating your pet. These are blood tests that measure the amount of antibodies to a particular disease in the blood. If the titer shows a low level of immunity, added protection is necessary, and we will administer a booster vaccination.
X-rays and ultrasounds give veterinarians much-needed views of the body structures (bones, organs, etc.) to assist in the detection of what they may not be able to feel with their hands on physical exam. This includes tumors or enlarged organs, heart failure, lung disease, bladder and/or kidney stones. Typically, imaging is recommended yearly depending on the veterinarian’s professional opinion regarding medical necessity, and the individualized treatment plan for your pet.
One of the most important keys to helping your dog or cat live longer is meeting his or her dietary needs. Obesity and weight loss are both common in older animals. Kidney, liver or heart problems may change a pet's requirements for sodium, phosphorus, protein and fat. Changes in activity levels and muscle mass are common in older animals, as are changes in their ability to digest and utilize nutrients. Your veterinarian can help you determine the type of food that's best for your aging pet.
It is important to start early with your pet’s dental health. We recommend brushing daily using a toothbrush and specially formulated enzymatic toothpaste for dogs to prevent the build up of plaque. If you find brushing difficult, dental rinses or chews are a better alternative in the fight against periodontal disease.
As your pet gets older it is important to have regular dental health check ups. This can be done at your annual appointment, or can be assessed at anytime.
- Plaque: Develops when bacteria attach to the teeth.
- Tartar / Calculus: Develops when minerals in the saliva combine with the plaque and harden.
- Periodontal Disease: Develops when tartar is not removed. Tartar begins to build up under the gums, and separates the gums from the teeth creating multiple pockets, which in turn allows more bacteria to grow. This can lead to loose teeth, abscesses, infection, bone loss and health problems affecting the heart, lung and kidneys, which can all be quite painful.
Progression of Periodontal Disease
- STAGE 1 - Gingivitis: The margin of attached gum is inflamed and swollen. Plaque can be seen on the teeth. Dental cleaning is needed within the next month to remove plaque buildup and prevent progression of dental disease. Home dental care is needed (click photo to enlarge).
- STAGE 2 - Mild Periodontitis: The entire gum is inflamed and swollen. The mouth is painful and odor is noticeable; tooth roots have lost up to 25% of their attachment. Bacteria begin to impact other body organs. Dental cleaning to remove calculus is needed as soon as possible. Home dental care is needed for future prevention (click photo to enlarge).
- STAGE 3 - Moderate Periodontitis: The gums are red and sometimes bleeding, damaged by infection and calculus. A sore mouth and or bad breath are evident. Heart valves and kidneys are exposed to bacteria and may be experiencing inflammation and damage. Dental cleaning is needed immediately to remove calculus, along with antibiotics and pain medications. Extractions are likely. Home dental care is needed for future prevention (click photo to enlarge).
- STAGE 4 - Severe Periodontitis: Chronic infection is destroying the gums, teeth and bone. Many teeth are loose. Bacteria are spreading through the body and heart, liver and kidneys are compromised. Pain is constant. Dental cleaning to remove calculus is needed immediately. Extractions, antibiotics, and pain medications will be necessary. Home dental care is needed for future prevention (click photo to enlarge).
If your pet has tartar it will be necessary for him or her to undergo an anesthetic procedure, where an ultrasonic scaling can be performed above and below the gum line to remove the tartar build up, followed by a thorough polishing. In some instances teeth extractions may be a necessary part of your pet’s dental health. Talk to your veterinarian about developing an appropriate dental care plan for your pet.
General Signs of Concern
If you notice one or more of the following, there could be a problem. Give us a call and we’ll help you figure out the best course of action. In most cases, if you’ve noticed something isn’t quite right, you’re probably on to something. You know your pet best, and it’s probably best to come in and have one of our veterinarians thoroughly examine your pet.
- Sustained, significant increase in water consumption or urination
- Rapid gross change in weight (loss or gain)
- Decreased appetite or not eating for more than 2 days
- Increased appetite
- Recurrent vomiting
- Diarrhea for more than 3 days (less with small breeds)
- Struggling to defecate or urinate
- Extended lameness beyond 5 days, or lameness noted in multiple limbs
- Decreased vision
- Open sores or scabs on the skin for more than a week
- Foul mouth odor or drooling for more than 2 days
- No longer able to or struggles to chew dry food
- Abdomen larger than normal
- Increased amount of time spent sleeping or inactive
- Hair loss
- Excessive panting
- Bloody stool or urine
- Seizure or convulsion
- Persistent coughing or gagging
- Rapid or heavy breathing at rest