Just like us, our dogs and cats undergo many changes associated with aging. Outwardly, you might notice variations in your pet's mobility, sleeping pattern and elimination habits. There are other changes which are less evident - organ, neurologic and metabolic functions can all be impacted by old age.
When is a pet geriatric? Generally, small dogs are considered geriatric at around nine years of age, large dogs at seven years of age and giant breeds of dog as young as five years of age. Cats are considered senior from eleven to fourteen, and geriatric from fifteen years on.
Understanding normal aging changes can be challenging. Some dogs look great for their age, and some need more assistance than others! Be sure to keep your pet's baseline in mind when evaluating their conditions and changes. What's normal for one twelve year old dog is not necessarily normal for another.
An important part of geriatric pet care is being proactive. Dr. Sivula recommends that your older pets see their primary care veterinarian for a physical exam at least once every six months, and that they have blood work and other recommended screenings checked at least annually.
We strive to make visits less stressful for our patients by creating a calm, quiet environment at our office. Pets are never evaluated on an exam table, and instead are allowed to rest comfortably on a bed or on our compressed rubber flooring. We set aside longer blocks for appointments, to ensure your visit isn't rushed. We have aromatherapy and pheromone products that soothe pets, in addition to specialized music therapy which is played throughout the clinic.
Dr. Sivula has vast experience in treating older pets and can address many common questions and concerns, including:
- Weight changes (obesity or thin body condition - frequently, older pets become overweight because of a decrease in activity. This can put undo stress on joints and limbs and put them at an increased risk for serious health problems. Other pets have difficulty gaining or maintaining weight, and become too thin. We can tailor a nutrition and supplement plan to meet your dog or cat's needs based on their metabolism and calorie needs.
- Chronic disease - many older pets have complicated medical histories, including kidney, liver and gastrointestinal illnesses. We offer treatment options to complement traditional therapies, and supplements that can lessen the potential side effects of maintenance medications. In some cases there are natural alternatives for traditional pills, which is particularly helpful for pets that are not candidates for conventional interventions.
- Mobility changes - many older pets have difficulty getting around. Owners often report that their pets seem weak, have trouble rising after periods of rest and struggle with stairs or jumps. Sometimes, pets can develop behavior changes relating to painful conditions like arthritis. Cats may begin to eliminate outside the litter box because it's difficult for them to access the box, climb into it or squat to void. Acupuncture and chiropractic care are immensely beneficial for these pets, as well as massage therapy and water treadmill therapy for canine patients.
- Cancer - cancers are the leading cause of death in geriatric pets. We offer a variety of alternative and integrative therapies to afford these cats and dogs as much quality time as possible.
- Cognitive (brain) changes - as the body ages, so does the brain, and this can result in behavioral changes. Herbal supplements to promote health neurologic function are often helpful and can even reverse some signs while still being gentle on the body. Natural products can help maintain a normal sleep cycle and soothe pets that are up at night. For some pets, a nutritional change can also promote good cognitive function.