Senior Pet Care

What Is a Senior Pet?

So, when does a pet become a senior? Typically for dogs, smaller breeds live longer than larger breeds. Some small dog breeds may be considered senior at 10 years or more, while giant breeds may be seniors by age 5.

Depending upon lifestyle and general health issues, cats live longer than dogs. Certainly the life span of an animal will vary with each individual, and your Sullivan veterinarian will help determine your pet’s stage of life.

Senior Health Exams

Senior care begins with the regular veterinary exam. The senior checkup is critical to catch and delay the onset or progress of disease and for the early detection of problems such as organ failure and osteoarthritis.

The AAHA® recommends that healthy senior dogs and cats visit the veterinarian every 6 months for a complete exam and laboratory testing. When every year for a dog or cat is equivalent to 5-7 human years, twice-a-year exams are a must.

During the senior health exam, your veterinarian will ask you about changes in your pet’s activity and behavior, conduct a complete examination of all of your pet’s body systems, and may perform laboratory tests. Client education is another key component of the senior exam, so be prepared to ask questions and address your concerns.

Laboratory Testing

Initial laboratory tests help determine your pet’s “baseline” values. Then, when your pet is sick, we can compare those lab results to the baseline values. Changes in laboratory test results in any animal may signal the presence of an underlying disease. During the senior years, we recommend the following basic diagnostic tests every six months for healthy dogs and cats:

  • Complete blood count (CBC)—Measures the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets in a given sample of blood.
  • Urinalysis—Detects the presence of one or more specific substances that normally do not appear in urine, such as protein, sugar, white blood cells, or blood.
  • Blood chemistry panel—Measures electrolytes, enzymes, and chemical elements such as calcium and phosphorous to determine how various organs, such as the kidneys, pancreas, and liver, are currently functioning.
  • Parasite evaluation—Provides information through a microscopic examination of your pet’s feces, revealing clues to difficulties with digestion, internal bleeding, and disorders of the pancreas, and confirms the presence of intestinal parasites, such as roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, tapeworm and giardia.

For senior cats, we recommend an additional routine blood test for hyperthyroidism, a common feline ailment. Other diagnostic tests may include:

  • Heartworm testing
  • Feline leukemia / feline immunodeficiency virus test
  • Urine protein evaluation
  • Cultures
  • Imaging such as x-rays and ultrasound
  • Ophthalmic evaluations

Quality of Life

Testing won’t tell us everything—often we need to know if surgery or treatment is simply delaying the inevitable, resulting in an unhappy or painful existence for our aging companion. Discussing euthanasia is uncomfortable, we know, but our old friends rely on us to make decisions about their medical care and quality of life. The staff of Sullivan Veterinary Clinic is there for you, to discuss your options and offer comfort when the time comes.

The American Veterinary Medicine Association gives us a simple way to help us understand our senior pet’s level of functioning—the Quality of Life scale. This scale is a nice tool that assists us in determining if your pet is happy and comfortable, in spite of age-related limitations. The Quality of Life elements are as follows:

  • Hurt—Pet exhibits adequate pain control, including breathing ability, or appears to struggle.
  • Hunger—Pet eats enough or requires assistance such as hand-feeding or feeding tube.
  • Hydration—Pet is hydrated or requires subcutaneous fluids.
  • Hygiene—Pet requires brushing and cleaning especially after elimination.
  • Happiness—Pet expresses joy, interest, and responds to the environment or appears bored, lonely, anxious, or fearful.
  • Mobility—Pet enjoys taking walks, gets up without assistance or struggles, stumbles or experiences seizures.
  • More Good than Bad—Pet enjoys more good days than bad.

Together, you and your veterinarian will review these elements and rate them on a scale of 1-10. Then you are able to make decisions based on your pet’s score at every stage of the animal’s life.