In veterinary medicine, much of what we do revolves around the concept of reducing risk. Veterinary medicine is similar to human pediatric medicine – our patients cannot express themselves and so we are left to assess and figure out what is going on without knowledge of what hurts, how long it has hurt, what kind of pain it is etc.
Some of the ways in which we reduce risk in pets are by vaccinating against diseases that we know a pet may be exposed to in their environment, prescribing parasite preventatives to minimize the chance a pet will become infected by common culprits, and performing blood screening prior to a surgery (to minimize anesthetic risk) and as pets age (to detect disease processes early). While there are dozens of risks we can educate you on as pet owners, we try to tailor our recommendations based on our conversations with you and our examinations of your pet – different pets and different owners will have different needs and priorities. Behaviour problems, dental disease, dermatology issues and joint disease are just a few concerns that I can think of where pets may be predisposed based on their breed or may exhibit early signs that require us to act accordingly.
One thing we know with every pet is that, as they age, time takes its toll. Pets become senior much faster than people and, while their breed and species play a part, on average, by seven years of age most pets are feeling the effects of aging in some way (large breed dogs by 5yrs as their life spans are that much shorter). Like with us, joints will start to creak while organs tend not to function as efficiently, all due to wear and tear.
Something everybody can do right away is ensure that their senior pets are receiving food appropriate to their life-stage. Senior pets don’t require as much energy and their organs don’t process nutrients the way they used to so precisely balanced diets are critical to overall health. Feeding a proper senior food with less protein, sodium and calcium as well as increased fiber content and Omega 3+ 6 fatty acids will help your pet age avoid both nutrient excess and deficiencies.
Working with our clients is paramount to our success and so, I have decided to include this mini-lifestyle questionnaire so you can determine for yourself what your pets’ risk factors are. Together we can prioritize them and focus on what is truly important for your pet.
Have you started to notice?
- Loss of house training/litter box avoidance
- Increased thirst or urination
- Changes in activity level
- Excessive panting/breathing changes
- Confusion or disorientation
- Less interaction with the family
- Decreased responsiveness
- Decreased hearing
- Skin and haircoat changes
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Altered appetite
- Weight change
- Difficulty climbing steps
- Difficulty jumping up/onto things
- Increased stiffness /rising from rest
- Bad breath
An observation of any of these things can help us with narrowing down on, and addressing, your pets’ immediate concerns in a timely manner. As an example, if you have noticed increased water consumption (thirst) we will focus on ruling out several common senior diseases such as diabetes, kidney and urinary disease. While dogs and cats are not merely tiny humans, we do have a lot in common and senior pets are prone to cataracts, arthritis, diabetes, kidney failure, hypothyroidism and cancer just like their human counterparts.
As so many of these conditions develop rapidly we recommend aging pets visit with their veterinarian more frequently. Our best chance at enabling a pet a long and healthy life is to catch problems early and treat them quickly. Our Senior Wellness Program includes a performing a full physical exam every six months, allowing us to monitor their progress properly and discuss any changes you have noticed in a timely fashion. We can make recommendations and also give you advice on caring for your senior pet – sometimes it isn’t health concerns but simply lifestyle and environmental concerns – we want their surroundings to be as comfortable as possible as their needs change.
Early diagnostic testing is also an important component of our Senior Wellness Program. There are certain things that we simply cannot gauge by observation – at least, not until the disease has progressed (ie. kidney disease, by the time we notice symptoms the disease is usually quite advanced). When healthy pets get bloodwork we are able to document what their “normal” values are for organ function. This is extremely helpful for later on as no two pets are ever exactly the same and, while we have average ranges for what “normal” looks like in a dog or a cat, having your pets exact values to compare to is much more beneficial for interpreting their organ function. Early detection of changes in a pet means we can intervene quicker and without the efforts that come with having a symptomatically ill pet.
You know your pet best; with your watchful eye and our medical care we can establish baseline information, identify illnesses early and provide effective treatment to help your pet avoid serious or life-threatening conditions. Please contact the Westway Animal Clinic team with any questions or concerns you have with respect to your pets’ care.