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Geriatric Pets



     We know you want to prolong the enjoyment of your pet’s companionship.  We have some information that may be helpful in managing the experiences of older companion animals.  Our animals age differently than we do.  The average dog year is approximately 5 to 7 times that of a human’s year.  Some giant breeds of dogs rarely live past 10 years.  The medium size dogs usually live 12?14 years.  The smaller dogs and cats are old after 15 years.  This is only an estimate.  Dogs and cats are teenagers at 2 years of age.  Some animals can live into their 20s.

     Signs of aging can appear anytime after 5 years. It is part of the normal aging process to see hair graying, cataracts, arthritis, hearing and sight loss.  An old age cataract, properly called lenticular aging, is a normal process seen after 7 years of age.  We ask you to call us first before giving aspirin to your dog for pain or arthritis.  Some dogs require the Ascriptin coated aspirin.  Cats should not given aspirin routinely.  One aspirin is an overdose for a cat.  We do not recommend Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil (ibuprofen) for any pet.  Ibuprofen, naproxen and acetaminophen cause liver and other problems in animals.  For dogs we recommend one 325 mg acetylsalicylic acid per 50# of body weight once or twice a day for pain.  If you give one dose of aspirin every 2 days you can help prevent stroke and heart problems in some patients.  We recommend the buffered aspirin for dogs, preferably at meal time.

     We recommend the special diets for older dogs and cats.  These diets contain less salt and protein which is not needed as much now as it was when they were a growing kitten or puppy.  Obesity contributes to many problems that will shorten your pet’s life.  Heart, lung, liver, skin, arthritis and back problems are a few of the diseases commonly seen in overweight animals.  The senior diets are especially made for the older dogs and the reducing diets for weight control in dogs and cats.  As animals age excess protein can do much more harm as good.  The kidneys and liver have to work harder to convert this extra protein.  After 6-8 years of age we recommend the lite diets, which contain 16% protein.  The t/d diet is a lite diet which is also high in fiber and helps keep your pet’s teeth and gums healthy.  Once pets have reached the age of 10?12 years we recommend the k/d diets that are very low in protein and salt.  Canine k/d has 1/10 the salt of regular dog foods and a protein level of 12% for the dry food.  By placing a 12+ year old patient on the k/d or NF diet this will help prolong their life.

     We commonly see three major problems that can decrease the life span of your pet.  Over 50% of companion animals ten or more years of age will be affected by heart, kidney or cancer problems.  Coughing after exercise may indicate a heart problem.  A sudden weakness requires an immediate phone call to a veterinarian; this also may indicate a heart problem in large dogs.  Kidney problems usually show a gradual increase in water consumption.  Liver problems and diabetes can also show up as her drinking more water.  She should normally drink one 8 oz. cup of water, or less, per 10 pounds of body weight daily.  Any animal drinking over l 1/2 cups per 10 pounds weight requires an exam and urine sample.  An early diagnosis of a heart or kidney problem usually does not require hospitalization.  The medical problem can usually be managed with a diet change and medication.  Ignoring the problem can result in a lot more expense and a decrease in life expectancy of her life.  If she is an unspayed female any sudden increase in her water drinking 2?3 weeks after her last heat requires a call and veterinary exam promptly for a possible infected uterus.

     Cancer shows up in various forms, but we usually find lumps or bumps on the body as the most common kind.  Any fast growing lump should be examined and if caught early most cancers can be treated by surgery.  Any dog or cat with a hard mass or pea-size mass underneath the mammary gland should be examined.  Breast cancer is especially seen in animals not spayed by 2 years of age.  In the non-neutered males a soft testicle indicates a possible testicular tumor.  The cancerous testicle starts to grow larger, producing estrogen, which then causes the other testicle to become smaller and soft.  The average neutered animal lives 5 years longer than the intact pet.  Very few kinds of tumors are contagious.  Feline Leukemia is a type of cancer preventable with a vaccine.

     It is important to have the yearly physical performed.  With the knowledge that one year of a pet’s life is equal to approximately 5-7 of ours, the yearly exam would be similar to you having a physical every 5 years.  To encourage early diagnosis and treatment we have a special program for geriatric patients. Blood work and radiographs are available at reduced rates when prescheduled.  We can even collect the blood sample with vaccinations and the x-rays at prescheduled drop-off periods.

     A complete geriatric physical program is also available that includes exams for blood and intestinal parasites, complete blood count (CBC), 16-27 blood chemistry tests, Feline Leukemia test and/or Feline AIDS (if applicable), radiographs, urinalysis, ECG (EKG) of the heart, plus eye and nervous exams.  Thyroid and Feline Infectious Peritonitis tests also may be considered.  If the older cat is losing weight or your dog seems sluggish and dull we will recommend adding on thyroid tests.  All of the above tests, except some of the 16 blood chemistries, thyroid, and F.I.P. tests can be done in our own clinic’s modern lab facilities.

     Catching medical problems before they become serious will prolong the life of your pet.  Weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, blood in the stool, constipation, periodic trouble breathing, an enlarged abdomen, trouble urinating and other problems should prompt a phone call to the veterinarian’s office. 


The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic