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Care for Senior Pets

Dr. Erik Strunk

As spring approaches, it gives us time to focus on the beginning of another year. For pet owners, this also means that our beloved pets are a year older! Dogs and cats are considered “seniors” at about the age of 7, and if your pet has arrived at or is approaching this age, there are some things you need to know!

As seniors, pets will have different dietary requirements. Senior formulas are designed to be a little lower in calories, since our senior pets tend to be less active. These formulas will have lower amounts of fat and protein than adult or maintenance formulas to help prevent weight gain with age. Be sure to avoid any food that claims to be “good for all life stages”, as these tend to be formulated to meet the needs of puppies and will have far too many calories, protein, and fat for a senior pet.

Some senior pets may begin to show signs of arthritis. If you have noticed your pet getting up more slowly in the mornings or after naps, less energetic on walks, or not playing as long as she used to, arthritis may be creeping in. There are many joint supplements on the market which can help protect the cartilage and maintain joint fluid production in your pet’s joints. Glucosamine, Chondroitin, and essential fatty acids (DHA, EPA) are the most critical ingredients. Use caution in selecting these types of supplements, however, as the FDA does not regulate ingredient consistency of these products. Some independent studies have shown poor correlation of ingredients to label claims on many of these products sold over the counter in pet stores or human pharmacies. Ask us for a recommendation on a product that will be both safe and effective for your pet.

Unfortunately, with senior pets we also see a higher incidence of chronic diseases. For this reason, we recommend yearly wellness blood screening to help us catch abnormalities faster. Our comprehensive senior screen includes an analysis of major organ systems including the liver, kidneys, thyroid, heart, and pancreas, blood counts to monitor for anemia, infection, or inflammatory conditions, and a urinalysis to look for signs of infection or kidney problems. A pet’s blood will show changes in their health before they start to feel sick, so if we can find a potential problem before it starts we can treat it faster. Faster treatment means a longer, healthier life for your pet!

Senior screening for disease does not stop with the blood! We may also recommend chest x-rays to screen for heart or lung disease or an abdominal ultrasound to look for abnormalities which may not show up on bloodwork. Diseases of the spleen and intestines can often develop without changes on bloodwork, and may need this more advanced modality to pick up a problem early.

Please let us know at your next visit if you would like any of these screening tests for your senior pet, and we can keep her healthy for many more springs to come!

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