It is National Senior Pet Month, so we took the opportunity to catch up with veterinarian Dr. Adam Davis of Privet Pet Care. Privet Pet Care is our exclusive veterinary partner here at Kennel Club LAX. They work with us on-site for exams, health certificates and general pet care as needed. We got answers our top 10 questions about taking care of our sweet dogs and cats as they enter their golden years. Being a wonderful pet owner and caring for the health of senior pets can be straightforward if you know what to watch out for.
1. How often do I need to have an exam? (Example, how often do we need to check blood and urine)?
Great question. While every pet is different and may have more specific needs and recommendations, I would recommend annual exams and lab work for all dogs over 6 years old and cats over 8. If your senior dog or cat has an underlying health condition that is being managed, every six months would be more appropriate.
2. Is it safe to have dental cleanings?
Absolutely. As many veterinarians often remind pet owners, age is not a disease. I am always evaluating my patients for things that may disrupt their quality of life and well-being. And then we can make risk-benefit assessments regarding potential concerns and treatments/diagnostics that we may want to pursue. Dental disease is extremely common in cats and dogs as they get older, so appropriate dental care is important.
Addressing the progression of tartar and calculus buildup, gingivitis and periodontal disease (disease processes occurring under the gums) is an important part of a pet’s overall health. And while age is not a disease, there are critical things that we can do to screen your senior dog or cat for any underlying anesthetic risks before pursing a dental procedure.
It starts with a veterinarian evaluating for any areas of potential concern on a physical exam. Then submitting a blood work and a urine test to further assess the organs and systems that we cannot see visually on exam. And monitoring all patients closely throughout the anesthetic dental for any signs of complications. When we follow these guidelines, we find that untreated dental disease represents a much higher risk of disrupting the pet’s quality of life than the anesthetic procedure itself.
3. Does my pet still need vaccines as they get older?
Another great question. There are many vaccines that are recommended throughout a pet’s life. Some are considered “core” vaccines and other are more lifestyle-dependent. Definitely not a “one size fits all” consideration.
Rabies is a legal requirement for all dogs, regardless of age. Other vaccines may become less necessary once senior dogs and cats reach a more advanced age (so long as they have received proper immunization boosters over the course of their lifetime).
Other considerations are things such as indoor/outdoor status for cats, which affects the different infectious disease risks they could potentially be exposed to. And upper respiratory vaccines for senior dogs that engage in activities with other dogs in group settings at dog parks, boarding facilities and daycares.
4. What kind of supplements help for older pets?
I, personally, am more interested in ensuring the pet is on a healthy, nutritiously-balanced diet than any general recommendations for supplements. With that said, may pets, especially senior dogs, manifest degenerative bone and joint problems as they age and benefit from supplements that enhance and protect cartilage health like glucosamine, chondroitin and fatty acids. Each senior dog and cat is different and will have specific needs based on their unique breed, genetics and other considerations that may affect their overall health and well-being.
5. Should my senior dog or cat be transitioned to a different diet the older they get? Do they need different food?
There are diets that are marketed as being formulated for older pets. However, I am not convinced that such diets are necessary and believe that pets of all ages benefit from an easily-digestible, nutritiously-balanced healthy diet. Their digestive systems are very similar to humans. And, therefore, recommendations parallel those made in respect to human diet, nutrition and gut health.
As many of the pet owners I have built relationships with over the years know, I am a big fan of lightly-cooked, human-grade pet food formulations. I find these to be optimal diets as they counter the highly-processed, preservative-laden and moisture-devoid nature of dry kibble.
The refrigerator and freezer are the best and healthiest preservers we have available and can be utilized to help meet a pet’s nutritional needs. Just Food for Dogs is a local company with many kitchens and pantries throughout Southern California that produces easy-to-serve cooked dog food in a variety of protein sources from cod to chicken to venison and others.
6. How much exercise is enough or too much for older dogs?
This question certainly applies more to older dogs than cats. Any cat owners that are proactively exercising their feline companions out there, I applaud and tip my hat for you. As for older dogs, they will typically dictate how much exercise they can tolerate. Dog owners should keep the walks, hikes and other activities going, and watch for any signs of fatigue, limping or discomfort. It’s important not to push them beyond their bodies can handle while maintaining a good quality of life.
7. What things should I consider when boarding my older dog or cat when I must travel?
I would just make sure they have had recent physical exams and ideally blood work to screen for any underlying concerns or conditions that we want to elucidate and address before the pet is left at a boarding facility. One of the many benefits I have found since transitioning for a traditional hospital work environment to a house call veterinary practice is my ability to work with facilities like Kennel Club LAX and come up to check on boarding dogs and cats if any changes to behavior are observed by the staff. And of course, always make sure that the facility is advised of any specific needs or medications that your older dog or cat may have prior to boarding.
8. What illness signs should I look out for as my pet gets older?
Pet parents are the best doctors when it comes to knowing if something if different with their loved ones. They observe them everyday and anything out of the ordinary should be reported to their primary care veterinarian. The doctor can then help decide if further evaluation and diagnostics are indicated. Some common signs appreciated by pet parents that may correlate with underlying pathologic changes and diseases include increased water intake and urination, change in appetite and energy levels and growths and lumps that may appear over their skin and body. There are many others and all notable changes in appearance and behavior for your senior dog or cat should be discussed with a veterinarian.
9. What other preventative therapies would you recommend for senior pet care?
We’ve covered some of the big ones including regular physical exams and lab work, appropriate immunizations, balanced nutrition and comprehensive dental hygiene. Fleas are extremely prevalent in Southern California and do not discriminate which pets they afflict by age. So we need to embrace good anti-parasite practices for senior pets just as we do for younger ones.
And finally, keep a close eye on weight gain trajectories throughout a pet’s life. You should look to prevent weight gain after 2 years of age. And it is much easier to address body conditioning concerns and weight control when pets are younger than when they reach senior ages where osteoarthritis may not only limit the amount of activity they can handle, but can be exacerbated by the need to carry excess weight on their limbs and joints. Of course, sudden weight loss can also be a concern. Contact your veterinarian right away if you notice an unexplained drop.
10. Is it safe to take senior dogs to daycares, boarding facilities and dog parks?
While every senior dog and cat is different and has different needs, age alone should not be a limiting factor for such activities. Discuss any concerns with a veterinarian and build relationships with boarding facility and dog daycare staff so you can trust that they are aware of any underlying health issues your pet has and can monitor for any changes while they are under their care.
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