Pets are living longer than ever, thanks to advances in veterinary medicine and increased awareness about the importance of preventive care. This gives you more time with your four-legged friend and means you must be aware that older pets are at increased risk for many health issues. Our Westerville Veterinary Clinic team explains four conditions your pet may experience during their senior years.

Senior pets are at increased risk for arthritis

Arthritis is the most common cause of pets’ chronic pain, affecting about 80% of dogs over 8 years of age and 90% of cats over age 10. Important information about senior pet arthritis includes:

  • Cause — Arthritis in senior pets is most commonly the result of wear and tear, but your pet’s arthritis risk can be increased if they carry excess weight, are injured in or around the joint, or develop orthopedic conditions, such as hip and elbow dysplasia and patellar luxation.
  • Signs — Your pet may limp on the arthritic limb, but more common signs include stiffness after resting, decreased energy and interest in activity, hesitancy when jumping on or off elevated surfaces, difficulty navigating stairs, and increased irritability. Cats may spend more time in hiding and may eliminate inappropriately if they have difficulty getting in and out of their litter box.
  • Diagnosis — If our veterinary team suspects arthritis based on your pet’s clinical signs, we may recommend diagnostics, including blood work and urinalysis to assess your four-legged friend’s overall health, and X-rays to determine joint damage.
  • Treatment — A multi-modal approach is typically the most effective arthritis treatment and may include:
    • Weight management
    • Pain medications
    • Monoclonal antibody treatment
    • Rehabilitation exercises
    • Joint supplements
    • Surgery
  • At-home care — We may also recommend modifying your home by providing supportive orthopedic beds, elevating your pet’s food and water bowls, placing ramps or stairs near preferred elevated resting spots, and providing low-sided litter boxes.

Senior pets are at increased chronic kidney disease risk

The kidneys play numerous vital roles in normal body functions, and aging pets often experience kidney function decline. When detected in the early stages, chronic kidney disease (CKD) can usually be effectively managed to improve a pet’s quality of life and increase their longevity. Important information about senior pet CKD includes:

  • Cause — In most CKD cases, the kidney cells (i.e., nephrons) wear out as part of the aging process. Other potential contributors include dehydration, hypertension, and infection. Pets who experience acute kidney failure are also at higher risk for CKD development.
  • Signs — Most pets don’t exhibit CKD signs, which include lethargy, increased thirst and urination, decreased appetite, weight loss, and bad breath, until about 70% of their kidney cells are damaged.
  • Diagnosis — Since CKD signs don’t typically manifest until the disease is advanced, regular screening tests are important to detect CKD in the early stages when the condition is more easily managed. A complete blood count, biochemistry profile, symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA), and urinalysis are helpful for a CKD diagnosis that, once made, may require other tests, such as blood pressure measurement, X-rays, and abdominal ultrasound, to determine the CKD stage and better guide treatment.
  • Treatment — Each pet’s treatment is tailored based on their condition and CKD stage. Potential treatments include:
    • Dietary changes
    • Fluid therapy
    • Medications to treat hypertension, anemia, and other CKD complications

Senior pets are at increased risk for dental disease

Most pets have some degree of dental disease by the time they are 3 years of age, when the bacteria have invaded below the gumline, damaging tooth supporting structures, and leading to loose, painful teeth, tooth root abscesses, and bone deterioration. The bacteria can also enter your pet’s bloodstream, damaging organs such as the heart, kidneys, and liver. Important information about senior pet dental disease includes:

  • Cause — Bacteria are attracted to food material left in your pet’s mouth, and they develop sticky plaque on the teeth that hardens into tartar.
  • Signs — Bad breath is the most common dental disease sign in pets. Other signs include tooth discoloration, difficulty eating, swollen or bleeding gums, and facial swelling.
  • Diagnosis — While our team may detect dental disease on a regular physical examination, only evaluation under general anesthesia, including dental X-rays, can determine the dental disease’s extent. 
  • Treatment — Dental disease treatment involves a professional veterinary dental cleaning, which may require tooth extractions and/or antibiotics to address significant infection.
  • Prevention — Dental disease can be easily prevented in your pet with at-home daily toothbrushing and regular professional veterinary dental cleanings.

Senior pets are at increased risk for cognitive dysfunction

Cognitive dysfunction (CD) causes dementia in senior pets. Important information about this condition includes:

  • Cause — CD is caused by gradual and degenerative age-related changes in the brain.
  • Signs — CD signs include disorientation, interaction changes, sleep pattern changes, house-soiling, activity level changes, anxiety, and failing to respond to known commands.
  • Diagnosis — A CD diagnosis is based on clinical signs and other potential causes being ruled out.
  • Treatment — CD treatment involves dietary change to support brain health, enrichment activities, medications, and supplements.

Senior pets are at risk for numerous health issues, but regular wellness exams can help detect conditions in the early stages when they are more easily managed. Our Westerville Veterinary Clinic team recommends senior pet wellness examinations at least every six months. Contact us today to schedule your senior pet’s appointment.