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K-State veterinarians recommend routine care for early detection of health problems in aging pets

By Jessica Clark

 

If your dog or cat is getting older, you may notice subtle differences in your pet such as a change in appetite or sleeping patterns. Veterinarians at Kansas State University say these changes could be a normal part of the aging process, but should be checked out by a veterinarian since they also may be symptoms of underlying age-related health issues.

A relatively new program at K-State's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, the senior pet care program, was created to help owners of older pets know and identify the changes their animal is going through as it ages. The program is centered on early detection, successful management of diseases and helping aging pets live more comfortably.

The program includes physical examinations twice a year, preventive blood work, ocular and dental exams, chest X-rays, mapping and tracking of tumors, heartworm tests and prevention, blood pressure monitoring, nutritional assessment, thyroid screening and fecal and urine examinations.

Any dog or cat from seven to 10 years of age and older qualifies as a senior or older pet and can be enrolled in the program.

Marjory Artzer, assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at K-State, says older pets need frequent routine care to detect potential health care problems as early as possible.

Common age-related diseases associated with both dogs and cats include kidney disease, dental disease, heart disease and cancer. Increased thirst and increased urine output can be early warning signs of kidney disease, but often may be overlooked, Artzer said.

Arthritis, especially in larger animals, is a common age-related problem in dogs. Frequent diseases seen in older cats include thyroid problems and diabetes.

Nutrition, exercise and grooming habits also may change as a pet ages.

"Older cats may groom less and owners may need to do some grooming for them that they haven't done in the past," Artzer said.

Artzer said nutrition plays a big role in keeping an older pet healthy. If weight loss occurs, she recommends owners seek medical attention to see if an underlying problem is the cause. Artzer also suggests providing food the pet has an appetite for and is capable of eating. If a pet is obese, dietary and exercise recommendations can be implemented to help maintain an ideal weight.

The pet's environment may need to be altered to accommodate a pet's changing health needs. Owners should also be aware of what is becoming difficult for their pet and what their pet is capable of tolerating, Artzer said.

Older pets cannot endure extremes in weather and should not be left outside for long periods of time. They may need additional light when going outside to relieve themselves at night because they cannot see as well. They also may not be able to hold their bladder as long and may need to be let outdoors more often, Artzer said.

A dog with arthritis may not be able to get up and down as easily and may need help maneuvering stairs or have to be confined to one floor. Soft bedding and non-slick surfaces also help to accommodate a dog with arthritis, Artzer said.

"Arthritis may cause some dogs to be sore or painful, causing them to be grumpier. A dog that normally enjoyed young children may become unsure or irritable around them," Artzer said. "If you notice this behavior, you should supervise play between your dog and young children."

Diseases and other age-related health issues should be identified early on so veterinarians can address the problems and manage them, giving the pet a longer and healthier life.

"Older pets, even if their shots are current, should be seen at least once a year by a veterinarian," Artzer said. "Ideally, we would like to see them every six months because conditions can progress quickly and we like to detect problems early before the pet is seriously debilitated."

The K-State Pet Health Center's senior pet care program is staffed by veterinarians Marjory Artzer, Susan Nelson and Matt Riegel, all assistant professors in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

To make an appointment or for more information on the senior pet care program at Kansas State University, call the small animal desk at 785-532-5690.

Spring 2003