Pets are living longer due to innovations in veterinary care, diagnostics, and earlier intervention. Nevertheless the key to making the most of our “geriatric” pets dependes not only in extending their life span, but in helping them enjoy their later years to the fullest extent.

Just like people, dogs and cats are prone to incapacitating maladies as they age. Kidney failure, heart problems, joint disease, dental problems, many forms of cancer, and cognitive dysfunction can happen through the natural maturing process. Previously, considering that a number of disorders weren’t identified until the pet was in the advanced stages, veterinarians could do nothing more than help to make a pet’s golden years a little more comfortable by caring for the symptoms of age-related disease. If the pet was lucky, the problems could develop slowly. Almost all pet owners just simply accepted the truth that their four-legged friends were only able to live a comparatively short life, get old, and pass on.

Yet thanks to technical advancements in modern veterinary medicine, surgery, diagnostics and nutrition, not only do pets survive longer but their quality of life has improved substantially as well.

One case in point follows human medicine in the refinement and use of the new generation of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs help the pains and aches of countless geriatric pets while keeping side effects to a minimum.

Several age associated concerns are still viewed as inevitable, but the perceptions of both veterinarians and pet owners have changed. The idea now is that “age is not a disease”, and veterinary medicine is putting increased emphasis on senior pet health through preventative health plans.

“The earlier we can intervene, the better, says veterinarian Dr. John Phillips in New York. “We now have greater knowledge, improved diagnostics and better therapeutics all of which mean we can effectively prevent or manage many senior health care issues.”

Eighty three year old Sam Edwards grew up on a farm and has had pets most of his life. He has taken advantage of developments in veterinary medicine to lengthen the lives of his pets. “As I’ve gotten older, I’m glad that some of the same medical advancements that have helped me age well are good for my pets, too.”

Edwards shares his home with “Niki”, a 15 year old cat, and a 16 year old terrier mix named “Bones”. “If you had told me twenty years ago that I would be brushing my dogs’ teeth, I’d thought you were crazy. But I brush Bones’ teeth every night while we watch the news. It’s something we both enjoy and my vet says it’s one of the most important things I can do to keep the old guy healthy.”

When is a pet viewed as a senior? Generally, smaller breeds of dogs live longer than bigger breeds, and cats live longer than dogs. Life spans vary with individuals, and pets, like people, age at many different rates, some more gracefully than others. A few smaller breeds of dogs, like Bones, are considered geriatric at fifteen. Large and giant breeds like Labrador retrievers and rottweilers are viewed as seniors as soon as seven years old. Cats, especially if they are kept inside your home, often live to their early twenties and do not reach their golden years until their teens.

The single most crucial action a pet owner might take to keep their pet happy and healthy as long as possible would be to make regular veterinary exams. As pets age, these exams are more crucial than ever, because as with people, quick detection is crucial for disease and problem intervention. Younger pets need routine exams once or twice every year. However as dogs and cats reach middle age, these examinations ought to be more frequent simply because each year in a pet’s life is equivalent to 5-7 people years.

“Keeping Niki and Bones healthy helps me stay young, too”, says Edwards. “All of us have arthritis so exercise is important to stay in shape and keep from getting stiff. Years ago, when my pets got arthritis, I just accepted it as old age and let them lay around. Now, we go for walks, and there are safer medications for arthritis pain. They even get glucosamine and antioxidants in their senior pet foods!”

Veterinarians often recommend regular lab work, electrocardiograms, blood pressure monitoring, and x-rays to discover early complications like thyroid, kidney, heart, and liver disease. With early detection, pets with body organ function conditions can be treated with medication along with specific doctor prescribed diet programs that not only extend their life span but the quality of their lives. In some instances, medical conditions can also be arrested.

Dr. Leslie Maclean a Tulsa, Oklahoma veterinarian followed the advice she gives her clients and found a hormone issue in one of her own Scottish terriers. “I discovered a rare adrenal gland problem on Brin’s first senior wellness exam. He was acting perfectly normal but his lab work picked up a problem. Early detection meant early treatment and easy management of his disease.”

In general, many early warning signs that your family pet may be aquiring a problem are:

    * drinking more water than usual and urination

    * urinary incontinence or having accidents in the house

    * frequent vomiting

    * smelly breath, drooling or difficulty eating
    * excessive panting or tires more easily  
     * lumps, bumps, nodules or changes in areas of skin color, bumps that bleed or are ulcerated
    * change in appetite – ingesting more or less than normal

    * alterations in behavior such as “spacing out” or excessive whimpering

    * abnormal bowel habits – diarrhea or constipation

    * shifts in body weight – gaining or reducing weight

Watch pets closely and also state any uncommon behavioral or physical difficulties to your vet promptly. Work together with your veterinarian and create a customized senior health and wellness strategy for your pet’s unique demands making sure that your precious pooch or kitty can enjoy aging gracefully.


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