Tips for Senior Cat and Dog Care

A vet group offers advice for older cats and dogs during National Senior Pet Month and Adopt a Senior Pet Month.

November is National Senior Pet Month, Pet Cancer Awareness Month and adopt A Senior Pet month, and the Texas Veterinary Medical Association has announced tips for taking care of senior cats and dogs.

Determine your cat’s age status. Heidi Lobprise, DVM, DAVDC, senior technical manager of Virbac Animal Health in Fort Worth, says nearly 39% of dogs and 45% of cats in the United States are in the “senior” category.

According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), some smaller dog breeds live longer than larger breeds and cats live longer than dogs. So a smaller dog might be considered senior at 10 or 13, while a larger dog could be considered senior as early as 5. Consult your cat’s veterinarian to see when your cat technically becomes a senior.

Make yearly vet visits. Once you establish that you do indeed have a senior cat, bring them in for a check-up at least twice a year.

Dr. Lobprise says that yearly vet visits should increase during the later years, despite statistics that say the opposite occurs. “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 cats and dogs include cancer, osteoarthritis and 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 a dog or cat’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. 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 here.  

Watch for signs of sickness. Look for changes in sleep patterns; is your cat mixing up night and day? Does your cat or dog no longer respond when you call? These and other behavior changes may indicate cognitive problems similar to Alzheimer’s disease in people. If your dog or cat has difficulty breathing, shows exercise intolerance and coughs, heart or lung issues might exist. Early detection can lead to treatments that can help in some cases.

“Early detection is key,” said 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.”

Vet before you pet. Find the senior cat or dog that’s right for you, in honor of Adopt a Senior Pet Month, by talking to your vet to see which adoptable cat or dog will best fit with your family. Your vet can also help you prepare to ask the right questions of the breeder/shelter/rescue group that will help you obtain your cat or dog.

Lobprise and others have established the International Veterinary Senior Care Society (IVSCS). The IVSCS had their first meeting at the 2011 AVMA conference and created a board of directors, logo and set of bylaws. They hope to have a website, events and even conferences. 

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