All Creatures Animal Clinic, Ltd.
Mark Hale, DVM
Y0UR AGING PET
As your pet gets older, there are several conditions that commonly occur. Several of these conditions have seen significant improvements in available treatments in the last five to ten years. Pet owners who are not aware of these advances may blame the problem on "old age" and put off veterinary treatment. Although there may not be a cure for some of these problems, oftentimes an animal's quality of life can be improved tremendously due to these advances.
Newer medications are available that improve the quality of life and may extend the lifespan of patients with heart disease. These new medicines are both safer and more effective at increasing cardiac output. They also decrease the amount of work the heart has to do. In addition, blood pressure reducers and prescription foods are now available to help alleviate the symptoms of this disease.
Periodontal disease is ranked as one of the most common diseases of canines. Some studies report that up to 75% of dogs have significant periodontal disease by age three. Toy and small breed dogs are significantly more affected, but cats and some large breed dogs can also have problems. Tarter accumulation and dental disease has been linked to heart valve and kidney infections that can be life threatening. Regular dental checkups and ultrasonic cleanings can help prevent or delay this condition. Most veterinarians now perform several of these procedures on a daily basis. Newer anesthetics make this procedure safer and smoother for older pets.
Older pets sometimes suffer from dementia or senility. They can become confused even in familiar surroundings with familiar people or family members. This declining mental capacity has been attributed to old age and owners have assumed that nothing could be done. However, in the last few years some new medications have been found to help. Some dogs benefit from a drug that acts on dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain responsible for nerve to nerve communication. Because this condition is progressive, this drug will not "cure" the condition but can extend the quality of life for up to two years.
Urinary incontinence is another common problem of older pets. Sometimes surgery is needed to correct a problem involving the urethra. More often, the animal just lacks muscle control with the urethral sphincter. This type of incontinence is best controlled with a drug called phenylpropanolamine. In the instances that this drug is not effective, hormonal replacement therapy may be tried. A thorough diagnostic workup is needed to rule out other causes of urination problems before treatment is started.
No cure exists for arthritis in either human or veterinary medicine. However, some drugs have become available in the last few years that have helped tremendously with the pain of chronic arthritis. Rimadyl® and Previcox® are the two non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) approved for canine arthritis. Dogs that have previously had difficulty rising, climbing stairs, jumping in the car or chair, now have a safe and effective option to improve their quality of life. Owners often later tell me that their long-time companion acts like a puppy again. (Words like these can sure bring a smile to my face in the middle of a hectic day.) Rarely liver and/or gastrointestinal disturbances can occur, therefore, blood tests are periodically required for monitoring purposes.
Chondroprotective agents are also commonly used to help support the cartilage in joints. These can slow down the progression of arthritis, and although a quick response is not obvious, can also help long-term in controlling the pain. Cosequin® and Glycoflex® are the two most commonly used products in this group. These drugs have dramatically helped one of my own senior companions. For over six years, it enabled Molly to enjoy her daily explorations on our farm.
Reward the loyalty your animal companions have given you all of these years by making their senior years as comfortable as possible. If you wonder whether your companion may be afflicted by any of these conditions, please schedule an appointment with Dr. Hale.