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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, September 30, 2006

Senior pets need more attention nowadays

By Dr. Don Palermo
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

By the time this article goes to print, I'll be 58 years old. I suppose that one old dog can write about another. Here are a few thoughts on senior pet care.

Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine, pets are living longer than ever before. However, with this increased lifespan comes an increase in the types of ailments that can afflict senior pets. As pets reach the golden years, there are a variety of conditions and diseases that they can face, including weight and mobility changes; osteoarthritis; kidney, heart and liver diseases; tumors and cancers; hormone disorders such as diabetes and thyroid imbalance; and many others.

Just as the healthcare needs of humans change as they age, the same applies to pets. It's critical for pet owners to work closely with their veterinarian to devise a health plan that is best for their senior pet.

When is a pet considered a "senior?" Generally, smaller breeds of dogs live longer than larger breeds, and cats live longer than dogs. Beyond that, the life span will vary with each individual pet's lifestyle. Your pet's golden years are, on average, reached at the age of 7 years old.

Many older pets benefit from specially formulated food that is designed with older bodies in mind. Obesity in pets is often the result of reduced exercise and overfeeding and is a risk factor for problems such as heart disease. Because older pets often have different nutritional requirements, these special foods can help keep your pet's weight under control and reduce consumption of nutrients that are risk factors for the development of diseases, as well as organ or age-related changes.

Exercise is yet another aspect of preventative geriatric care for pets.

Older pets should be kept active as they get older not using their bodies and minds will make them deteriorate much more quickly. Of course, arthritic and debilitated pets should not have a strenuous workout regimen but otherwise pets should be kept as active mentally and physically as possible in order to keep them sharp and fit.

Pain management in older pets is another area that needs to be addressed. Pets experience pain just like humans do. The different types of pain include acute pain, which comes on suddenly as a result of an injury, surgery, or an infection, and chronic pain, which is long-lasting and usually develops slowly (such as arthritis). You can play a key role in monitoring your pet to determine whether he/she suffers from pain.

Advances in veterinary medicine have given us several wonderful medications to help the older pets thrive even with advanced stages of arthritis. My personal favorite is Previcox. I have found that this particular medication showed great improvement in lameness and range of motion in my patients.

To help ensure your pet lives comfortable during the senior life stage, it's critical to work with your veterinarian to tailor a senior wellness plan that is best for your dog or cat. Be sure to monitor behavior and physical conditions and report anything unusual to your veterinarian, who can help your pet head into the twilight years with ease. Today's veterinarians have both the knowledge and the tools to help your older pet live a happier, healthier life.