Our Four-legged Friends

By Tom Roebuck

May 16, 2008 4 min read


Just like us, senior pets need a little more care

By Tom Roebuck

Copley News Service

As we age, so do our pets. Getting older means more trips to the doctor's office for humans and animals alike. Each animal and breed ages differently, but a general estimate is that after dogs and cats turn 7, they can be considered a senior. And once they've attained senior status, checkups become especially important - even if everything seems fine.

"Eventually there will be symptoms, but the sad part is by the time the symptoms are obvious, you wish you would have caught it a month, six months or a year earlier. The blood work on a totally healthy pet is a great investment," said William Fortney, assistant professor of diagnostic medicine/pathobiology at Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Young and middle-age dogs should be examined by a vet once a year, Fortney advised, and older dogs should be brought in twice a year. That may seem unnecessary, but dogs and cats age much faster than we do.

"Once a year is like a person seeing a doctor every seven years. We could probably live with that. By the time you and I are 60, 70 years of age, that's unacceptable. I know it sounds like every six months is excessive, but there's a lot of time compression that goes on versus people," Fortney said.

For cats, the American Veterinarian Medical Association recommends an examination every six months, regardless of the pet's age.

Vet visits are important, but they are only one part of monitoring a pet's health. Owners need to let their vet know of any changes in their pet that they notice, even if it doesn't seem to be health-related.

"I like to think of it as a team, the veterinarian and the owner working together because the people see their cats every day at home and so they know what to look for and can help tremendously," said Ilona Rodan, owner of Cat Care Clinic in Madison, Wis. "The things to watch for at home are any changes in interaction between cats if you have multiple cats and between people; if the cat is not spending as much time with people; if they become more irritable, stop using the litter box. Those can be signs of disease."

Noting any changes in routine or behavior and regular vet visits are recommended for both dogs and cats, but Fortney advised changing a older dog's diet to a senior formula while Rodan advised against changing a cat's diet if it's healthy.

"It is not necessary to ever change a cat's diet to a mature or senior diet unless a veterinarian makes that recommendation. In my opinion the only time it's necessary to change their diet is when there is a medical condition that requires a prescription diet or if there is weight loss needed," Rodan said.

Opinions on vaccinations for older dogs are changing. Barry Kellogg, senior veterinary adviser for the Humane Society of the United States, said overvaccinating can be as dangerous as undervaccinating.

"For a long time they said you needed to get vaccines every year. It is now generally accepted and should be accepted by all veterinary corners that that really is not appropriate. We went through a stretch where I think there was an overvaccination that may have led to other failures in their body because they've been challenged by these vaccines inappropriately," Kellogg said.

"Sometimes in practice we used to see a lot of issues that developed like renal failure and illnesses of other types and it was coincidental that it would come a short time after booster vaccinations. Certainly make sure that you're current legally. Rabies, for example, is accepted as an every-three-year vaccine. But I would caution against overvaccinating older animals that may not need them."

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