If you ask any pet owner, they’ll likely tell you they wish their cat or dog could live forever. But despite the increase in the average lifespan of dogs and cats in recent years and the significant advances in health management strategies for senior pets, many owners make mistakes when it comes to their older pets’ health.
In many cases, that’s because they tend to assume things like a decline in activity or more finicky appetite just comes with old age when in fact, they might be signs of illness that can often be managed with the help of a veterinarian. Those assumptions are often a result of outdated or incorrect information.
Below, we’ll bust four common myths about senior pets so you can keep yours healthier in his golden years.
Myth 1: It’s Just Old Age
Age alone is not an indicator of a pet’s current health status or a predictor of his future health. Older pets can be more susceptible to serious and progressive diseases like cancer, arthritis, and mental decline, as well as diseases of the heart, kidneys, and liver. But unfortunately, dog and cat owners often think early signs of these problems are “just old age,” and by the time they take their pet to the vet, the condition is more advanced.
Don’t hesitate to schedule an examination for your pet if you notice any of these common signs that owners often attribute to age: reduced activity level, weight loss, changes in appetite, increased drinking or urination, limping or stiffness, decreased vision, or periods of disorientation or confusion.
Myth 2: Nothing Can Be Done
Many pet owners mistakenly assume that nothing can be done to help senior animals with common ailments, but that’s not necessarily the case. Often, it's possible to manage changes associated with old age, including decreasing activity, toileting accidents, bad breath, morning stiffness, decreased or increasingly finicky appetite and periods of disorientation or confusion.
If you notice these signs, don’t assume that nothing can be done to make your pet more comfortable. Talk with your vet about options for helping your pet. Special diets for senior pets, exercise, weight control, and dental care can help slow the progression of many of the conditions associated with these signs.
Myth 3: Senior Pets Only Need Yearly Checkups
This is a big one. Your elderly pet needs to go to the vet more often than he did when he was a sprightly young pup or kitten. While a once-a-year trip might be fine for some a younger pets, dogs and cats age rapidly after puberty — roughly four to 10 years for every human year, depending on their size and breed. That means a lot can happen in a year, including significant advancement in the course of a disease, so many veterinarians recommend older pets be examined at least twice a year — even if they appear healthy.
If your vet sees your pet every six months, you have a better chance of catching and addressing problems early. And certain signs may indicate a serious condition that requires immediate attention, such as; shortness of breath; a persistent cough; drinking more water; yellow or orange tint to the eyes, mouth, and skin; or black stools. If your dog or cat exhibits any of those signs — whether he's a senior or not — don’t delay in getting him to the vet for a checkup.
Myth 4: Anesthesia Is Too Risky for Seniors
An increasing amount of evidence shows that lifelong dental care is vital to a pet’s overall health and quality of life. But historically, the positive benefits of routine dental care and teeth cleaning have been countered by the perceived risks of the general anesthesia that is needed to effectively clean and polish a dog or cat’s teeth without discomfort. Anesthesia, like any medical procedure, does have risks and special care must be taken with seniors, especially if they have heart, lung, liver or kidney troubles.
Luckily, there have been improvements in the safety of anesthesia, thanks to recommended blood and urine screening, safer anesthetic drugs and protocols and newer patient-monitoring equipment. All of this means there are reasons to consider continuing your pet’s dental cleanings as he ages, especially when compared with the negative effects that chronic dental disease can have on your pet’s well-being. Talk with your vet about whether anesthesia is right for your dog or cat.