Anyone with a pet will eventually experience their furry friend age and become a little bit slower. However, the key to a fulfilled life is to make sure they are healthy and well. Fulham veterinary nurse Rosie Martin reveals the key health problems to look out for as a pet gets older.
It is well known that cats and dogs age faster than humans. It was once thought that dogs age seven times faster than us, although this can vary greatly between breeds. For example, an 8-year old chihuahua is considered middle-aged, while a six-year old Great Dane would be considered geriatric! Generally speaking, the larger the breed, the shorter the lifespan.
Older pets have changing needs just as we do. Joints, organs and body systems can start to become less efficient than in their youth. There are a few things you can look out for to make sure your pet is comfortable in their old age.
Arthritis – many cats and dogs suffer from arthritis as they get older (although it can develop at a young age, especially after a trauma such as a fracture). Signs of joint wear-and-tear include exercise intolerance, stiffness (especially after lying down for extended periods), limping and general unwellness. Arthritis is painful and should not be considered ‘part of growing old’. It can be managed very effectively with pain relief, physiotherapy and even acupuncture.
Kidney failure – more common in cats than dogs, kidney failure is a result of kidney cells becoming damaged through continuous use. Kidney disease will only show symptoms when 75% of kidney function is lost, and it will not regenerate like the liver. Signs of kidney disease include increased urination, increased thirst, weight loss, nausea/vomiting, mouth ulcers and a general unkempt look. Although not curable, kidney failure is treatable and can be managed effectively with the help of your vet.
Hyperthyroidism – another common cat complaint in old age, hyperthyroidism means the thyroid gland (found in the neck) is overproducing thyroxine, a hormone which is involved in metabolism. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include rapid weight loss with increased appetite, skittishness, vocalising and a scruffy, unkempt look. There are several treatments available for hyperthyroidism; your vet will be able to help you decide which is best for you and your cat.
Exercise intolerance – as muscles, bones and the circulatory system age they are no longer able to carry on like they used to; dogs and cats may sleep more and exercise less as they age. This is normal and your pet will tell you how much they can manage. If your pet is not going outside as often, or for less time, you’ll need to adjust their diet accordingly.
Food – High-quality diets designed for mature pets will ensure they receive the right nutrients for their changing needs. Mature diets often contain less protein but offer a higher digestability (it is broken down more easily by the body), have reduced calories and fat (to prevent weight gain), more essential fatty acids for skin and coat health and higher levels of some vitamins and minerals. However, certain conditions may be exacerbated by mature diets, such as kidney disease or diabetes. Speak to your vet if you are thinking if changing your pet’s diet.
Immune system – senior pet’s immune systems are not as strong as younger animals. Therefore they are more prone to picking up infections such as gastroenteritis or kennel cough. It is vitally important that you keep your pet’s vaccinations up-to-date, especially as they will receive a general health check at the same time and health issues can be identified.
Any general illness that your pet suffers in old age will hit them harder than younger animals. It is important therefore that you pay close attention to any changes and speak to your vet or vet nurse if you are worried. Age is not a disease; although health issues are more common in old age, your veterinary team can help you manage your pet’s condition so they live happy and comfortable in their senior years.