The advancements in veterinary medicine, the quality of scientifically formulated pet foods, the increase in devoted ownership and modern city dwellings where animals are far more restricted has improved the longevity of companion animals to the extent that geriatric care has become a major aspect of veterinary science where proactive senior programmes are in place by conducting geriatric profiles and health checks for early problem detection.
Although age is genetically related to individual lines, breed and size pets enjoy half their life in the senior category which is automatically from 7 years of age. 40% of veterinary patients are senior.
In most instances any senior pet over 7 years of age may need a pre-anaesthetic blood profile done and placed on intravenous infusion during most procedures such as dental care and surgery.
Good responses are obtained with appropriate nutrition and pain control. As in humans, a bored under-stimulated, under-exercised animal will develop cognitive dysfunction earlier – a healthy mind and good genes are necessary to delay the onset.
Elderly animals are fairly stressed with changes if they have lived a life bent on routine so it is a wise prophylaxis for pets to lead an unpredictable lifestyle and feeding patterns with exposure to a greater variety of circumstances such as boarding in a cattery, kennel or veterinary practice, walking in parks, near shopping centres and schools, socialising etc.
Ageing can affect virtually every bodily system which may directly or indirectly impact on the animal’s behaviour patterns. Much older cats and dogs can show similar signs to Alzheimer’s! In these instances they may stare at the walls, walk around in circles, have seriously irregular eating patterns, nag to come in to the house then nag to go out; sometimes they do not recognise the owner. While these symptoms may be harmless they can be disturbing; in the advance stages senior pets may start toileting indoors and in the most inappropriate places. This calls for immediate veterinary advice and intervention.
As pets age they tend to lose the senses of vision and hearing and may exhibit symptoms of insecurity, over-dependence and a decline in coping skills; cannot cope with change; cannot be left alone.
Most elderly dogs over 7 years of age start showing signs of lameness and stiffness due to the onset of arthritis. These changes are inevitable, progressive and irreversible. They have to be managed by the owner’s observation and interest. The veterinarian is well-geared-up to assist with the appropriate supplements, treatments, physiotherapy, medicines and management of elderly pets, with the welfare and quality of life as a priority.
The veterinary practice is geared up for geriatric profiling. This may include a full clinical examination, pertinent blood tests, x-rays, ECG and an ultrasound scan to evaluate the status of any animal at any stage of its life. Certain conditions can be pre-empted with early detection e.g. renal disease, liver disease, heart conditions, arthritis, change in diet, certain supplements etc. Instinctively, animals are not inclined to reveal illness unless it is very serious which often catches owners by surprise; some chronic illnesses are not painful so they can go unnoticed for long periods of time.