Protecting Senior Pet Health

Deer Park Animal Hospital recommends that your senior pet be seen by your veterinarian every six months. During this examination, changes in your pet’s appearance and behavior are noted. These exams also provide you with a great opportunity to tell your veterinarian if you have noticed your pet refusing food, acting reluctant to go outside, appears to be in pain or has a problem urinating or defecating. In many instances these issues can signal the presence of underlying health problems.
 
It is also important for owners of senior pets to know that as their pet ages he or she may develop joint pain and stiffness. These can merely be signs of aging or indicate the presence of arthritis. In either event, your pet likely will become less active, his energy level may decrease, and she may tire more easily. It is still important to ensure your pet exercises, even with arthritis, but you will likely need to adjust your pet’s diet to prevent weight gain.
 
Older pets are also more susceptible to diseases of the heart and lungs. Signs such as coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing and weakness can be symptoms associated with heart and lung problems. If these symptoms are present, a veterinary examination is strongly recommended.
 
Ear infections are not uncommon, especially in older dogs. Signs of an ear infection include persistent head shaking, rubbing/pawing of the ears and observing a discharge from one or both ears.
 
Hearing, sight and smell can all become less acute with age and you may need to make allowances for these changes. For instance, your dog may not obey you or may not respond to his name simply because he does not hear the command. Watch for signs of impaired sight such as bumping into furniture. Eye infections, cataracts, decreased night vision, or even blindness can also occur. However, your veterinarian can help you distinguish the difference between the normal aging process and the hazy, whitish growth of cataracts that can lead to blindness.
 
Tooth and gum disease are also more prevalent in older pets. If your pet has sore gums or loose teeth, he may be reluctant to eat or it may cause food to drop out of her mouth. Gum disease not only leads to loss of teeth, but can also cause heart and kidney infections if bacteria enter the bloodstream through the inflamed gums. Examine your pet's mouth regularly and ask your veterinarian for advice if the teeth or gums do not look healthy.
 
Urinary incontinence and inappropriate urination are problems that frequently occur in elderly pets. Urinary incontinence is often associated with hormonal imbalance in spayed females or a disorder of the nervous system that controls bladder function. Aside from these conditions, inappropriate urination may also be the result of a urinary tract disorder, prostate problem or other body malfunction. Consult your veterinarian if your pet suddenly becomes incontinent or begins to urinate more frequently.
 
As your pet ages, his behavior may change significantly. You might interpret this as simple aging, but it actually might be due to a treatable geriatric disease, such as cognitive dysfunction. Some typical signs include confusion, disorientation, decreased activity, changes in the sleep/wake cycle, loss of housetraining, or signs that suggests a decrease in your dog's interest in or ability to interact with his environment or with you. Your veterinarian can prescribe medication for cognitive dysfunction.