Senior Pet Health

We called him our own personal alarm system. Nothing could compare to the deep hound dog howl that we heard on a regular basis. He lived for protecting our home. When we no longer heard that howl, I knew it was time to say goodbye to him just a few days shy of his 18th birthday.

“Dutch” was a black and white beagle who came as part of a package deal when I married my husband. He was my husband’s first dog of his own when my mother-in-law eventually gave in to his pleading for a dog. It was his senior year in high school when he came home with a roly-poly beagle pup with big floppy black ears.

Dutch was never a lovable cuddly dog, but he was bound and determined to protect our family and home at all costs, even if it meant chasing the UPS guy, not letting my neighbor pull into our driveway, or keeping the poor Boy Scout collecting pop cans away from our front door. He proudly trotted around our home letting out his Beagle howl warning all those that dared come near.

Dutch and I never really bonded; therefore he never listened to me. Many times he would get loose and run off so the first thing to help prevent this was to neuter him. My husband wasn’t too thrilled, but I made it clear if he wanted to marry me and bring this dog into our home, the dog was going to be neutered.

Although this was the best thing for his health, it did not prevent him from running off. I came home from work one day to find him gimping around on one leg after one of his runs. He had ruptured his ACL tendon, similar to a football player’s injury. I performed his surgery that next week, and brought him home to start his physical rehabilitation.

I had the next day off, and woke up to let Dutch out. To my surprise, he immediately took off on his three working legs. Donned only in a tank top and pj bottoms, I took off at a full sprint down the middle of the road after him. I had just reached out to grab him when he made a mad dash and quick turn leaving me in the dust in the middle of our road.

Later that day, I came home from getting groceries and found him behind the house unable to walk on either hind leg. He had ruptured his other ACL tendon the day after repair of the first one. At that point, we couldn’t afford any more surgery. He did heal, but would unfortunately be plagued with severe osteoarthritis down the road.

As Dutch grew older, different problems began to emerge. He developed an on-and-off cough and we found he had the start of heart disease. He also wasn’t as excited about going outside especially in the colder weather. His joints ached and he started to forget when and where to urinate. He slept in his bed most of the day and at night would get up and just urinate in the middle of the floor. Despite being on heart medications, arthritis meds, and meds for senility, his health continued to decline.

I never thought he would live as long as he did. We knew it was time for a decision when he stopped howling, his appetite declined, he no longer had a zest for life and he was beginning to suffer.

Despite our “rocky” relationship, I shed many tears for that dog. He had been with us for over 10 years and had been through many of the major events in our lives together. Some days I think I still hear that beagle howl in the distance and I am reminded of our Dutch.

With advances in medicine, pets are living longer and longer. Routine screening tests and the proper understanding and care of certain medical conditions can help. As a pet ages, it is very important to have senior screening tests done on a yearly basis and at minimum a physical examination twice a year.

Many conditions can be caught early and managed well giving a senior pet a longer and better quality life. Common conditions include kidney disease, liver disease, heart disease, dental disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, bladder disease, senility, and osteoarthritis. Many senior pets also develop cancer in their later years. Caught early enough and depending on where and what the type of cancer is, a senior pet may be able to have surgery and/or chemotherapy.

A pet may have osteoarthritis if you notice the animal slowing down when taking walks, having difficulty getting up especially first thing in the morning, and with stairs, and lameness on one or more legs. Arthritis can be managed effectively with anti-inflammatories, joint supplements, and pain medications.

Kidney and liver disease can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. Kidney disease is more common in senior cats and can be managed with a special diet, fluid therapy, supplements, and anti-nausea medications.

Diabetes is the inability of a pet’s pancreas to take up sugar into the tissues from the bloodstream. Common signs include drinking and urinating excessively, constant hunger, weakness, and lethargy. If caught early by a simple blood test and treated with insulin injections and proper diet, it may be reversed in cats.

Heart disease is very common in older small breed dogs. A condition called mitral valve insufficiency leads to congestion around the heart and difficulty breathing. If diagnosed early, a pet can live for years beyond a diagnosis with proper medical therapy. Common signs include coughing and heavy breathing especially after exercise and first thing in the morning. Routine physical examinations and auscultation of the heart and lungs will help rule out heart disease.

Thyroid disease is common in both older cats and dogs. Dogs may develop hypothyroidism which may show as weight gain, lethargy, lack of appetite, hair loss, and lack of energy. Cats develop just the opposite, hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid, from a thyroid nodule. Signs include weight loss, ravenous appetite, vomiting, and rapid heart rate. Diagnosis is made by a simple blood test and treatment may be a medication, special diet, or surgery.

Dental disease is very common in older cats and dogs and can lead to a variety of other problems which include heart disease, kidney and liver disease. Diagnosis is made on physical examination and we highly recommend a thorough dental cleaning plus possible radiographs and extractions. A diseased tooth will be a constant source of pain and infection and can cause a myriad of issues down the road if left untreated.

Bladder disease might include a bladder infection, bladder inflammation, bladder stones, or incontinence which are all common in older dogs. If a pet is having any problems urinating or urinating excessively or frequently we may recommend a urine sample to rule out these conditions.

Finally, senility or cognitive dysfunction is very common in older pets. They may become forgetful, become lost in your home, get stuck in a corner, or randomly stare at a wall. They may whine at night or not recognize their owners. This is a common condition and can be helped with different supplements and adjustments to your home.

Other things to consider as a pets age include routine fecal exams and a change in diet. The animal may not be able to digest normal diets anymore, so a change to a senior food may be required. Pets, just like elderly people, may be more immunosuppressed and prone to picking up parasites and diseases. Keep them up to date on vaccinations, have their stools checked on an annual basis, and keep them on preventative flea, tick, and heartworm control meds.

We at the Dunkirk Animal Clinic want to be there for you and your pets as they age. We offer a senior care package that includes prices for either inpatient screening tests or outpatient screening tests at a discounted price. Many of these conditions can be caught early and managed effectively giving your pet the quality of life they deserve. Call us today at 366-7440 for more information and stop down to pick up your free senior care package.