Some of my favorite patients are old critters. They tend to be more serene and not nearly as anxious in my office after all the previous visits and loving we have had together. I am surprised that I can still be shocked when I look at a chart and see that a dog is actually 12 years old and not the five I had in my head. Especially when the dog suddenly looks old from the last visit. Even veterinarians try to deny aging in their patients, it seems.
A few years ago I was stunned to realize that my lovely great dane, Zoey, was 11 and a half and not going to make 12. It is easy to miss the creeping signs of old age.
Some of the indicators that our elderly pets are feeling their age are subtle. My dog was sleeping more than usual and drinking more than usual. But she still had her spark plug moments of racing around the house with my terrier. Sleeping more than usual can indicate any number of issues in older pets. Some are somnolent because they have diminished vision, hearing or mental abilities. Some because they have heart disease or an endocrine disease like hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is often accompanied by decreased appetite and weight gain. And, of course, pain from arthritis can be a reason to snooze more and exercise less.
Drinking more is not a good sign, as most people think. Drinking more implies that the kidneys are not doing a great job of concentrating (making more dense, thicker) the urine. The first thing that goes wrong with kidneys is usually a loss of ability to concentrate – leading to increased drinking and increased urinating. Accidents in the house can be due to kidney disease or a urinary tract infection or urinary incontinence. Many aging pets urinate in the house, some because of brain aging (senility) too.
Bad breath is sometimes not just a sign of dental disease. It can indicate kidney or liver or endocrine disease. Dental disease is common in older pets too. Untreated dental issues can leave bacteria seeding from the mouth into the bloodstream to the valves of the heart, the liver or the kidneys and precipitate a crisis. It is as important for your pets to have their dental issues taken care of to preserve their health as it is for you to take care of your teeth too. Pets can have very significant dental disease and still be eating just fine. They are masters of hiding pain.
An exam every 6 months of a geriatric pet (those 8 years and older) is recommended to check for signs of arthritis, endocrine disorders, liver or kidney or bone marrow disease, mental acuity, vision, hearing and to screen for dental disease. We can’t change the age of your pet but we can make it easier to live with by treating the issues of aging. Non steroidal anti inflammatory medications can make a very arthritic pet much more comfortable and mobile. Dental treatment can relieve pain and clean bacterial seeding out. Heart drugs can extend the lifespan and quality of life. Dietary modifications can slow the progression of kidney, bladder, or liver disease. Just because your dog or cat is old does not mean he or she does not need care. We can help a lot.