Keep your older pet healthy

Humans have taken comfort in the companionship of pets since man and animals recognized a mutual benefit in sharing the cave. Many of us have had cats or dogs since childhood and we have no intention of relinquishing that friendship just because we’ve gotten older. But as we age, so do our pets, and it’s our responsibility to recognize their needs as they grow older and do the best we can to keep them happy and healthy.

The age at which dogs are considered geriatric varies, says Dr. Dave Cartledge of Bonnie Doon Veterinary Clinic in Edmonton. Life expectancy of very large dogs, such as Great Danes, averages about seven years, while a small poodle may live to be 15 or 16. Large dogs could be considered a “senior” from five years of age, while that bouncy little poodle wouldn’t reach the same state until eight or nine.

Food key for older dogs
Cartledge recommends a diet of good quality food formulated for the older canine. “They’re lower in salt and lower in protein; it slows down the progression of heart disease, kidney disease and liver disease. There are different foods for managing other diseases, too, so it helps to get a blood sample, arine sample and a physical to determine what type of food to recommend.”

A yearly check-up, with the appropriate vaccinations, helps your vet monitor your pet’s health so potential problems can be addressed before they become a threat to its well-being.

“Teeth are a big issue nowadays,” notes Cartledge. “We have four different flavours of self-rinsing toothpaste.”

One pet food company has even developed a tartar-reducing food, available in two sizes for dogs and one size for cats. “It reduces the amount of work people have to do on their pet’s teeth,” he says, “but it doesn’t replace it. We also have pet chews with enzymes for tartar removal.”

Cats don’t complain
Cats are usually considered “seniors” around the age of eight, says Dr. Gabrielle Herman, of Toronto’s Bay Cat Hospital. She advises an annual check-up, with blood and urine testing to pick up subtle changes in health that might otherwise go unnoticed. “Cats are very stoic,” she notes. “They don’t complain. If they’re not feeling well, they’re likely to hide out in a quiet place where they’ll be undisturbed.”

As an owner, you can look for changes in grooming or bowel habits, and whether the cat is drinking a lot or urinating more. “The coat should be lustrous and shiny, with minimal dandruff,” says Herman, “and the cat should continue to groom normally.” Failure to groom may indicate dental problems, or perhaps a sore mouth or throat. Loss of weight can also flag trouble with teeth, kidney disease or even cancer. Overweight cats can suffer from problems with heart, joints, or even constipation – so resist over feeding.

Specially formulated food for the senior feline is widely available. Your veterinarian can advise you on which formula best suits your pet.

Does your cat “talk” loudly or fail to flee from the vacuum cleaner? He could be deaf and wouldn’t be safe roaming outdoors. Cats cope amazingly well with blindness. You might not even notice there’s a problem unless he or she bumps into an out-of-place object. Again, outdoor adventuring is dangerous.

Cleaning kitty’s litter box may not be your favourite chore, but it allows you to monitor your cat’s pattern of digestion, perhaps noticing health problems before they become serious or even life-threatening.

Cats can develop diabetes in mid-to-old age. As with humans, they’ll drink an excess amount of water and produce a large volume of urine and stools. Urinary tract infections are not uncommon, notes Dr. Herman. You may notice an unpleasant odour as the cat urinates inappropriately around the house, so have your vet examine it as quickly as possible – for your cat’s comfort, and your own.

But odds are your cat will remain healthy for many years, perhaps into its early 20s, sharing with you years of companionship and amusement.