Vet That Senior Pet

( - AUSTIN, Texas, -- With November serving as National Senior Pet Month, Pet Cancer Awareness Month and adopt A Senior Pet month, we at the Texas Veterinary Medical Association thought we'd provide you with some tips for taking care of that senior pet.

According to Heidi Lobprise, DVM, DAVDC, senior technical manager of Virbac Animal Health in Fort Worth, nearly 39 percent of dogs and 45 percent of cats in the United States are in the "senior" category. However, there is no exact age to signal these senior years. According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), some smaller breeds of dogs live longer than larger breeds and cats live longer than dogs. So it's not uncommon for a smaller dog to be considered senior at 10 or 13, while a larger dog can be considered senior as early as five. So it's best to consult your veterinarian to see when your pet technically becomes a senior.

Once you establish that you do indeed have a senior pet, it's best to bring them in for a check-up at least twice a year.

"Though statistics show that the number of veterinary visits don't increase much once a pet hits those senior ages, they should," said Dr. Lobprise. "That's a really good time to get a good wellness program started, such as doing blood work, establishing baselines and checking their metabolism. It's much much better to catch something early than to wait until they're really sick."

Common ailments that affect more mature pets include cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis and periodontal, kidney, heart and liver disease. According to the AAHA, cancer is responsible for about half the deaths of patients more than 10 years old. Other prominent issues that can affect an animal's life expectancy and quality of life include diabetes and periodontal disease. An owner can help prevent periodontal disease by maintaining a healthy mouth and watching the pet's diet and weight can impact diabetes.

In fact, if an owner practices prevention in general, they can increase their senior pet's chances of making it through a multitude of common ailments, so it's important to watch for a couple of tell-tale signs. See a list of common warning signs in AAHA's Senior Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats.

Other issues to look for are changes in sleep patterns (for instance, are they mixing up night and day?), if they no longer respond when you call them and other behavior changes that may indicate cognitive problems that can be compared to Alzheimer's disease in people. If your pet has difficulty breathing, shows exercise intolerance and is coughing, there could be heart or lung issues. Early detection can lead to treatments that can help in some cases.

"Early detection is key," said Dr. Lobprise. "While old age itself isn't a disease, it can still cause a senior pet to take longer to recover from diseases a younger pet would handle more easily. The earlier you catch something the better."

That's why Dr. Lobprise and others established the International Veterinary Senior Care Society (IVSCS). Earlier this year, Dr. Lobprise came to the realization that there were veterinary organizations based on geography, species, interest, etc., but none on senior care. So on July 18, the IVSCS had their first meeting at the AVMA conference and created a board of directors, logo and set of bylaws. Soon they hope to have a website, events and even conferences.

So far, the members of IVSCS are from various veterinary disciplines including cardiology, internal medicine, dentistry and general practice. There are even some technicians and media and industry professionals in the mix.

"Since a senior pet can have issues in literally any system in the body, senior care has to be widely inclusive, encompassing just about every aspect of veterinary care out there," said Dr. Lobprise. "That's why we need a group of leading veterinary professionals from every discipline, so we could find the best ways to deal with senior care issues together."

Vet Before You Pet

If you're thinking of adopting a slightly senior pet in honor of Adopt a Senior Pet Month, consider "vetting" this decision with a veterinarian first. A veterinarian can steer you toward a senior pet that will suit your lifestyle. They can also help you prepare to ask the right questions of the breeder/shelter/rescue group that will help you obtain your pet.

About TVMA
Founded in 1903, the Texas Veterinary Medical Association is a professional association composed of more than 3,700 veterinarians committed to protecting public health, promoting high educational, ethical and moral standards within the veterinary profession, and educating the public about animal health and its relationship to human health.

Re-printed with permission from Michael J. McCurdy

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  • Published:
  • Updated: 4/25/2018: 11:09:28 AM ET
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