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 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.
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:
For senior cats, we recommend an additional routine blood test for hyperthyroidism, a common feline ailment. Other diagnostic tests may include:
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:
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.
View this AVMA article describing their Quality of Life scale and for more answers to questions regarding senior pet care. The AVMA offers several additional resources for pet owners, including brochures that are available online and can be downloaded and printed at no charge.
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