Why Your Special Senior Pet Needs More Veterinary Exams 

A grey cat sitting on a wall

Your sweet senior pet may be as energetic as a youngster, but changes in their physiology and overall well-being are definite. Your pet also may have developed  certain conditions that can come on later in life that need additional care. No matter what level of health and vitality your older pet is in, a senior pet needs more veterinary care than their younger counterparts. 

There are several factors that lead to this, but the goal is always to keep your pet at their best and healthiest as they age. The team at Animal Medical Hospital & 24-Hour Urgent Care is here to tell you all about senior pet care and how to provide loving TLC for your aging furry friend. for your furry friend.

Age Is Not a Disease

Many people assume that old age in pets just means that they will naturally develop diseases, but this is not always the case. 

In fact, many diseases that do come with aging can be prevented through lifestyle changes and early detection. That is why veterinary care is of the utmost importance when your pet is over the age of 7-8 years (sometimes older or younger depending on your pet’s breed and size).

Why Does My Older Pet Need More Veterinary Visits?

The reasons for this is that certain conditions emerge over time, through aging or through wear and tear (such as the case with arthritis and other mobility issues). The reason behind the increase is visits is to promote early detection. Through these visits, we can assess the state of health of organs that are prone to deteriorate or become affected with the passing of time, such as the kidneys, bones, heart, and teeth

There are also many diseases that can be reversed, such as diabetes in cats. These twice-annual visits allow us to get a closer look into your pet’s health by performing routine blood work and other diagnostic testing. It’s also a wonderful time for you to ask questions about senior care at home. This includes addressing issues with respect to nutrition, exercise, lifestyle, and so on.

What Is Senior Pet Wellness?

Our senior pet wellness examinations focus on the holistic rather than the routine. Each visit is personalized to your pet as to spend more time focused on their particular needs and well-being. 

Most senior pet wellness visits, however, will include some or all of the following:

  • Thorough head-to-tail examination
  • Blood work to check thyroid function, complete blood count, kidney function, liver enzymes, electrolytes, and blood sugar levels
  • Diagnostic testing that might include X-ray, EKG, and ultrasound
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Dental exam and cleaning
  • Cognitive function assessment
  • Ear and eye examination

We will make sure that when you leave, you will feel like your questions are answered and you better understand how to keep your loveable “oldie” as healthy as they can be.

More Questions About Senior Pet Wellness?

Our experienced, compassionate team is available for you and your four-legged friend. We want to be your partner in excellent veterinary care and want your pet to thrive throughout their senior and geriatric years.

If you have additional questions about senior pet wellness, or would like to call us for an appointment, do not hesitate to email or pick up the phone.

How to Identify Pet Pain

Pet pain isn't always obvious and is often easy to ease with the help of your local veterinarian.Our pets may not walk, talk, or behave like us, but that doesn’t mean they don’t feel pain in much the same way as humans. Over the past few decades, veterinary science has made tremendous strides in the areas of pet pain prevention and management.

At Animal Medical Hospital, we believe the best way to empower pet owners is through education. September is Animal Pain Awareness Month, so now is the perfect opportunity to delve deeper into the issue of pet pain.

Signs of Pet Pain

Unfortunately, our pets can’t tell us when they’re hurting. Combine this with the fact that dogs and cats are hardwired to hide signs of illness or injury, it can sometimes be extremely difficult to tell when a pet is in pain. Your pet’s regular wellness exams are a good opportunity for us to assess your pet for signs of trouble, but your observations at home are just as important. Continue…

Is Your Pet Slowing Down?

Is your pet slowing down ? 

Is this normal aging or something else?

We all know that dogs and cats age faster than we do, which sometimes leads us to accept their slowing down with old age without question. Many people wonder if there is something they could do to keep their older pet happier and perkier for longer. Is there something that we may be overlooking?

Common causes of pets ‘slowing down’

There are a number of different reasons that an older dog or cat could lose the pep in their step. The most common causes are osteoarthritis, heart disease, hypothyroidism or other endocrine or metabolic problems. Twice yearly checkups for our pets over 7 years old (over 5 for giant breed dogs) with complete blood cell counts, serum chemistries and a urinalysis can help to detect early problems and take steps to prevent disease.

Is there anything I can really do?

While its true that for some diseases like osteoarthritis and heart disease there is no cure, many therapeutic options are available that could slow the progression of disease, especially if caught early. Special therapeutic diets, nutritional supplementation, weight management and exercise plans are all things that your veterinarian can discuss with you to help your aging pet live a longer, more comfortable life.

Written by : Dr. Lauren Goode, DVM

NSAIDs – What you need to know!

Dr. Melissa Schupp

Your best pal Lassie comes in from playing outside and you notice she is limping on one of her back legs.  You begin browsing through your medicine cabinet looking for some medication that may relieve her pain.  You see some aspirin, naproxen, ibuprofen and acetaminophen.  You also see an old bottle of carprofen left over from when your other dog had knee surgery.  Naproxen always makes your headache go away quickly so, why not give some to Lassie?  STOP!  Call your veterinarian before you give anything!  Medications meant for you or for another dog may not be right for Lassie and could even hurt her.

With the exception of acetaminophen, the drugs listed above are all nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS).  These medications are used frequently in both people and pets for their pain-relieving, anti-inflammatory and anti-fever effects.   They are often prescribed for animals for arthritis or post-surgical pain.

So what do NSAIDS actually do?  Bear with me while we go through a bit of science.  NSAIDS block an enzyme in the body called cyclooxygenase (COX).  COX stimulates damaged cells to produce substances called prostaglandins which have several functions:

-Protect the stomach lining from the damaging effects of acid

-Helps maintain blood flow to the kidneys

-Supports platelet function

-Contributes to pain, inflammation and fever

When COX is blocked by NSAIDS, pain, inflammation and fever are reduced which is great, but there can also be side effects.  Some of the common side effects seen with NSAID use are vomiting, decreased or absent appetite, decreased activity and diarrhea.  More severe side effects can include stomach and intestinal ulcers, stomach and intestinal perforations (holes in the wall of these organs), kidney failure, liver failure and even death.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved many NSAIDS for use in dogs (carprofen, meloxicam, deracoxib, firocoxib, etodolac and robenacoxib); only two are approved for use in cats (meloxicam and robenacoxib).  This means that those medications have been shown to be safe and effective for use in that species.  NSAIDS that are approved for human use do not have the same effectiveness and particularly the same safety margin if given to your pet.

Dogs and cats are not small people!  People, dogs and cats are different species and will absorb, metabolize and react differently to medications.  A medication used for a human may last longer, have a higher absorption rate in the stomach and reach much higher concentrations in the blood stream when given to a dog.  Cats lack an enzyme allowing them to break down NSAIDS making them particularly sensitive.

Let’s look at an example.  Naproxen is a very safe and effective NSAID used in humans.  But just a single dose when given to a dog can cause severe gastrointestinal upset, stomach ulcers, intestinal perforation and kidney failure.  Effective treatment can require many days or even weeks in the hospital and cost thousands of dollars.

So, what should you do?

First, never give any medication to your pet without discussing it with your veterinarian first.  We are too often faced with a well-meaning pet owner who unintentionally caused their pet harm by giving a medication.  It is one of the most devastating problems we face.

Next, always inform your vet of any medications your pet is on – prescribed or not.  Two different NSAIDS or an NSAID and a steroid should never be given at the same time.

Ask your veterinarian about performing baseline blood work prior to starting any long-term NSAID therapy.

Never change the amount or frequency you administer to your pet without first talking to your veterinarian.

Finally, if your pet is on a prescribed NSAID, monitor him for side effects and inform your veterinarian if you see them.

NSAIDS are a very valuable and important part of medical treatment for our pets and for us.  But we must take care to use them safely!  This is not only true for NSAIDS but any medication we choose to give.  Before you reach into the medicine cabinet for a medication for Lassie, please call your veterinarian.  We are here to help you keep your pet healthy and happy for a long, long time!

Arthritis and Your Pet By Dr. Lauren Goode

Ever wonder what people are really talking about when they use the term ‘arthritis’? Arthritis refers to inflammation of the joint. There are different types of arthritis but the most common is degenerative joint disease (DJD). DJD, or osteoarthritis, is a chronic, progressive disease by which the cartilage in the joint that provides a cushion between the bones is broken down. This exposes the underlying bone and causes pain by allowing the bones to rub against each other. The rubbing causes irregular bone growth at the ends of the bone which also contributes to the pain. Cartilage break down can occur secondary to joint instability (due to ligament damage or trauma), disease within a joint, or because of chronic wear and tear on old joints. In dogs, we generally see secondary osteoarthritis because of chronic joint problems like hip dysplasia and knee injuries.

Often, we only begin to talk about arthritis in our pets when they are clearly having trouble getting up, or have a hard time taking the stairs or getting into the car. In cats, we may see that they do not want to jump as high as they used to. When we see these signs our pets are telling us that they are in a significant amount of pain. There can be earlier changes in younger pets that can signify the beginning of osteoarthritis. Generally speaking, the dog that gets sore or stiff after a day at the park, or the cat who’s walking just a little different.

It is important to talk to your veterinarian about any changes that you notice in your pet’s mobility at any age. The most important factors in controlling and slowing down osteoarthritis are weight management, routine exercise and anti-inflammatory medication as needed. Additionally, there are special diets and supplements that can help to prolong the strength of the cartilage in the joints and decrease inflammation. The earlier you take steps to improve joint health, the longer your pet will live an active, comfortable life.

Ain’t Getting Any Younger

Our pets are living longer than ever before thanks to advancements in care and medicine.  With this increased lifespan, however, comes increased susceptibility to disease.  By recognizing that our pets age more quickly than we do and taking appropriate precautions and actions, we can ensure that their golden years are quality years.

It is easy to forget that at around the early age of seven, our pets are considered to be senior citizens.  As a general rule, smaller breeds of dogs live longer than larger breeds.  Cats may even live longer.  Because they are aging at such a fast rate compared to humans, yearly exams may not be enough.  One year may be equivalent to 5-7 human years!  It is recommended that senior pets have a wellness exam performed every six months.  This exam may include all or some of the following:

  • A comprehensive physical exam:  The pet’s body systems are carefully examined in order to detect any signs of problems.
  • Complete blood count:  This test measures your pet’s red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets and may help diagnose things such as infection, anemia, and leukemia.
  • Blood chemistry:  These panels help your veterinarian determine how major organs, such as the kidneys, pancreas, and liver, are functioning.
  • Thyroid check:  The thyroid gland can be a problem, particularly in cats.  Blood tests can help to identify any problems.
  • Urinalysis:  Analysis of the urine may be used to detect the presence of protein, sugar, white blood cells or blood.  The ability of the kidneys to concentrate the urine is also observed.  Urinalysis can help to diagnose of urinary tract infections, diabetes, dehydration, kidney problems, and more.
  • Other tests or procedures based on physical exam or laboratory findings may be recommended.

Establishing baseline values can be valuable for even a seemingly healthy pet.  Many times subtle changes in lab work are the first sign of illness, and early detection almost always yields a better outcome.  The semi-annual checkup is also a great time to discuss difficulties and changes in your pet’s life such as behavior changes, differences in nutritional and exercise requirements, and pain.  This is a simple, effective way to help make sure your pet has many more quality years to come!

On the Lookout

Animals are very good at hiding signs of illness and weakness.  If you think about it, it makes sense.  Critters living out in the wild that are not at the top of their game are often called dinner.  Our family friends are not living out in nature, however.  It is our job to pay close attention so that we are conscious of subtle signs of problems early in their course.  The following is a list of some obvious and not-so-obvious signs that a problem could be lurking:

  • Sustained changes in attitude or activity level
  • Changes in drinking habits (increased or decreased consumption)
  • Changes in appetite (increased, decreased, or absent)
  • Changes in urination habits (increased, decreased, straining, blood in urine)
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Decreased vision and/or hearing
  • Changes in the appearance of the eyes
  • Harder time getting around, stiffness
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Bad breath, drooling
  • New lumps or bumps
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Lameness, especially that lasting over 5 days or in more than one leg
  • Excessive panting
  • Breathing heavily or quickly while resting
  • Hiding, especially for cats

When you are familiar with your pet’s normal habits and behavior, it becomes much easier to identify a problem.  If you are able to draw these types of issues to your veterinarian’s attention, you offer valuable information that just might help detect a problem before it becomes detrimental to your pet’s health.

An Ounce of Prevention

Simple things such as osteoarthritis, weight changes, or dental disease can affect your senior pet immensely.  In many cases preventative care can help to minimize or eliminate the impact of such challenges.

  • Routine veterinary care

Because animals age so much more quickly than humans, semi-annual wellness visits are advised.  At these visits your veterinarian can identify problems early in their course, hopefully stopping or slowing their effects.

  • Exercise:

Senior animals should continue to live an active life as much as possible.  Encouraging gentle exercise will help them to keep their joints mobile and their organs functioning well.  Some pets may benefit from pain medications that your veterinarian can prescribe.  These can help to keep older animals comfortable and active.

  • Nutrition:

Older pets often require a diet formulated for the nutritional requirements of the senior pet.  These can help to keep weight under control as the metabolism and activity level slow.  Obesity can be a serious problem for older animals, further limiting mobility and putting the organs under undue strain.  Certain pets may also benefit from avoiding or including certain ingredients in their diets.  Your veterinarian can help you to formulate a personalized feeding program that can help your pet to stay healthier longer.

  • Dental care:

Dental disease is a serious problem for many pets.  Bacteria in the mouth can adversely affect other organs in the body such as the heart and liver. Diseased teeth and gums can be immensely painful.  Proper dental cleaning requires anesthesia to ensure that all surfaces of the teeth are cleaned, including under the gum line.  Your veterinarian can tailor a protocol specific to your pet in order to ensure the safest anesthetic experience possible.

The Golden Years

It may seem like yesterday that you first fell in love with your puppy or kitten, but everyday they are getting older.  Certain changes are common in aging pets just as they are for people.  These changes can affect how your pet behaves and experiences life.  By acknowledging them, however, we can help our pets to cope with these new challenges and maintain a great quality of life.

  • Dulling of the senses:

Just like an elderly person, senior pets may not hear or see as well as they once did.  While there may not be any way to reverse losses, the conscientious pet owner can help their animal adjust.  Take care to not surprise pets that cannot hear or see you coming.  If your pet’s eyesight is failing, you may avoid rearranging furniture and other objects in the household in order to make them feel more secure.

  • Difficulty getting around:

Creaky bones are an unfortunate consequence of normal wear and tear.  If you notice your pet having a hard time, try to make adjustments to accommodate this challenge. There are many varieties of steps and ramps made just for pets that can help them get in and out of the car, climb onto the bed, or nap in their favorite window.  If you notice Fluffy having a hard time getting in or out of the litter box, consider a shallower and/or larger box.  If Fido is slow to rise out of his bed, consider a thicker, plusher cushion.  Your veterinarian may also be able to prescribe medications or recommend treatments that can help with arthritis pain.  Older pets should continue to be active, however less intense activities may be necessary.

  • Changes in personality:

A pet that is in pain or not feeling well may become crabby or distant.  Older pets may not be as tolerant as they once were simply because they hurt.  Take this into consideration, particularly when they are around small children who may not always be gentle.  Pets can also suffer from a form of dementia known as cognitive dysfunction.  Any major changes in personality indicate the need for an examination by your vet.

  • Loss of housebreaking:

Accidents in the house may indicate a health problem including arthritis, kidney problems, endocrine problems, or cognitive dysfunction.  These should be investigated in order to head off problems early.

Making small adjustments and discussing challenges with your vet can make a big difference in your faithful friend’s golden years.