Skip to the content

Kansas State University




Join us on facebook


Check out K-State on YouTube


News Services
Kansas State University
128 Dole Hall
Manhattan, KS 66506
Information provided by K-State News Services may be reproduced without permission. The marks and names of Kansas State University are protected trademarks and may not be used in any commercial or private endeavor without the approval of the university.

Source: Dr. Susan Nelson, 785-532-5690
News release prepared by: Cheryl May, 785-532-6415,

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


MANHATTAN -- Being proactive and taking an active role in health management of your older pet will help assure your cat and dog lead a full and high-quality life as long as possible.

Although some age-related diseases may not be preventable, early detection and intervention is key to successful management. That's the word from Dr. Susan Nelson, a Kansas State University veterinarian who specializes in pet health care.

Veterinarians in K-State's Pet Health Center recommend senior pets receive a thorough physical examination every six months.

"We can't keep your pet from aging, but we can manage the effects of aging on a pet's health," Nelson said.

The average dog or cat between 7 and 10 years of age and older qualifies as a senior pet. Rate of aging increases with body size. Pets age much faster than people -- about five to seven years for every human year.

Nelson said examinations should include an assessment of the pet's body condition to make dietary and exercise recommendations to help the pet maintain an ideal body weight.

"Being overweight puts a strain on all the body's systems, so we encourage clients to keep their pets at a healthy body weight," Nelson said. "Daily walks are pleasant for both owners and dogs, and cats can be kept fit by interacting with them with toys and laser lights."

During your pet's appointment, your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam which includes checking the pet's teeth and gums because dental disease is a major health problem for senior pets.

"Dental disease can provide bacteria an entry way into the pet's bloodstream, which can lead to infection elsewhere in the body," Nelson said. "Signs of dental disease include bad breath, plaque and tartar accumulation, red and swollen gums, difficulty eating and tooth loss. Owners can brush a pet's teeth with special toothpaste made just for animals, or they can feed special dental pet food designed to clean teeth."

Early health warning signs to look for in both dogs and cats include any changes in appetite; weight loss or gain; loss of housetraining; increased thirst; increased urine output; difficulty rising, walking or climbing stairs; confusion or disorientation; persistent cough; new lumps or bumps; or changes in sleep patterns. If your pet shows any of these early warning signs, Nelson recommends making an appointment with a veterinarian.

Some tests can be done at the semi-annual physical that will catch problems before they cause symptoms.

"Specific screening tests may detect early, pre-symptom changes that may affect your pet's health," Nelson said. "These tests are minimally invasive and do not typically require sedation. For dogs, these tests include oral and dental evaluation; tumor mapping -- evaluating and noting location of lumps and bumps -- and testing of suspicious ones; blood pressure monitoring; eye exams; thyroid screening; urinalysis; fecal exam for parasites; complete blood count and serum chemistry profile; chest X-rays; and heartworm test. Cats should have all the previous tests plus a FeLV/FIV test."