Dog Years VS Human Years
7 dog years = 44 – 56 years
10 dog years = 56 – 78 years
15 dog years = 76 – 115 years
20 dog years = 96 – 120 years
Cat Years VS Human Years
7 cat years = 54 years
10 cat years = 63 years
15 cat years = 78 years
20 cat years = 97 years
Getting Older Means Going to the Vet More Often
Is your companion getting a little grey around the muzzle? Animals today are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. With improved healthcare and preventive medicine programs, we are seeing more and more pets live to their upper teens and even early twenties.
However, as our pets age they often require more medical attention and changes in health may be subtle at first. Dogs and cats over the age of 7 are more prone to disease due to age related changes. It is important that any medical conditions are diagnosed early so that treatment can begin in the early stages, and we rely on client observations as the cornerstone to their pet’s care.
While annual check-ups are important for pets of all ages, making more frequent vet visits is especially important for mature pets. We consider pets that are seven years old and older to be senior-aged pets. At this stage in their lives, dogs and cats are more susceptible to contracting health issues, including the following:
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Certain types of cancer
We recommend bringing your senior pet to our facility at least twice a year for head-to-tail examinations and evaluations, vaccinations and lab tests. Routine visits to Veazie Veterinary Clinic allow our veterinary team to stay on top of your senior pet’s health and keep you in the know about any potential ailments.
- MOBILITY AIDS – Senior pets may not be able to get around as easily as they used to. You can provide assistance by placing ramps for access to high areas like beds and furniture and adding rugs for improved traction on slippery flooring.
- EXERCISE – Exercise is just as important for senior pets as it is for younger pets. It keeps them mobile, boosts their mood and impedes weight gain.
- COMFORTABLE BEDDING – If you haven’t already done so, consider providing your senior pet with a soft, supportive bed for naptime and bedtime.
- HEALTHY DIET – Aging pets should eat food that is tailored to their age group for optimal digestion and caloric intake.
- CAREFUL MONITORING – Keep a lookout for changes in your pet’s behavior and mood, as they may indicate a health condition. Pay special attention to eating, drinking, sleeping and bathroom patterns. Make sure to let your vet know about any changes.
Senior Dog Health
Preventative care for senior dogs starts with regular physical examinations.
We recommend bi-annual exams for senior dogs. This allows us to check blood work, listen to their heart and assess problems such as arthritis and dental disease.
Geriatric blood panels are a key diagnostic tool which can help us detect problems even before the animal is symptomatic. If your dog is on NSAIDs for arthritis, it is particularly important to check blood work regularly to monitor kidney & liver function.
A dog owner’s observations can be critical to this process. Let your veterinarian know if you see:
- Changes in behavior
- Changes in appetite/thirst
- Changes in urination or defecation
- Changes in activity level
- Loss of interest in family or toys
- Increasing difficulty walking, running, or using stairs
Being aware of these changes makes treatment both more successful and easier if it is needed.
Arthritis is painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints often associated with bone changes. If your pet is slow to get up or no longer bounds up the stairs like they used to, they may have arthritic changes. We grade arthritis on a scale of 1 to 4:
Grade 1: Young dog predisposed to arthritis due to conformation or injury.
Grade 2: Minimal existing joint disease causing infrequent symptoms.
Grade 3: Moderate Degenerate Joint Disease (DJD) causing intermittent lameness.
Grade 4: Severe DJD with debilitating loss of function.
There are several ways to manage arthritis and help to restore a happy quality of life for your pet. Once pain is controlled, many of our older patients return to their favorite activities. Treatments are comprehensive and often involve weight management and nutritional supplements in addition to NSAID pain relievers.
Modes of Treatment
Treatment is comprehensive and often involves multiple ways of improving both joint health and reducing stress on the joint. If the arthritis is minor the doctor may choose to begin without NSAIDS. These non-medical treatments to improve joint health and prevent or reduce further arthritis development include:
- Weight Management
- Nutritional Supplements
- Fish Oils
Once arthritis is more severe, the doctor may talk to you about adding an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) or pain relievers. NSAIDs are safe to use, as long as the pet has healthy kidneys and liver. For this reason we like to annually do a blood screen to make sure they are still functioning well when your pet takes these drugs.
In addition, the hydrotherapy tub at the Wellness Center may be helpful, along with physical therapy, to increase mobility and range of motion. Both help by contributing to weight loss and strengthening the muscles supporting the joint.
Although we love to pamper our senior pets, it is important to remember that excess weight can become a significant problem. This means that all those Milk-Bones can really add up. Obese animals can suffer from a range of additional health problems:
- Increased skeletal stress
- High blood pressure
- Cardiovascular disease
- Liver disease
- Impaired immune function
- Decreased stamina and heat tolerance
- Breathing difficulties
Because of this, weight management is key to long healthy quality lives for senior pets. Ways to help manage your pet’s weight include:
- Measuring out the pet’s daily food
- Decreasing the number of treats
- Increasing or maintaining their activity level
- Low impact exercise such walking or swimming to improve mobility without over stressing their joints
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are extremely valuable in human and veterinary medicine as pain relievers.
Most human drugs in this class should not be given to pets due to undesirable side effects, some of which can be life threatening. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian before giving your pet a new medication.
- Ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin)
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Naproxen (Aleve)
- Carprofen (Rimadyl)
- Deracoxib (Deramaxx)
- Meloxicam (Metacam)
- Galliprant (grapiprant)
Given wisely and with appropriate monitoring, NSAIDs have the potential to significantly improve our pets’ quality of life. At the current time, these drugs are only approved for use in dogs since cats cannot tolerate most drugs in this class. (Meloxicam may be the exception, but its use in cats is off-label and it must be used with caution.)
Note: While there is some concern in human medicine about the risk of heart attack or stroke with the use of COX-2 inhibitors, (such as Celebrex and Vioxx), to date there is no evidence of a similar concern with dogs. Deramaxx is currently the only selective COX-2 inhibitor used in dogs. As a species, dogs are not prone to the same types of cardiac disease as humans, and there have been no reports of these types of adverse effects on dogs.
When Are NSAIDs Used?
- Commonly given to control pain associated with arthritis
- May be used in any number of situations where inflammation leads to pain
- Short term control of pain following surgery or injury
- Long term control of chronic pain such as arthritis
In Long Term NSAID Use:
- A baseline blood panel should be performed to ensure there is no evidence of underlying liver or kidney problems
- The liver is the primary organ involved in metabolism of these drugs
- Changes in dose or drug may be needed if the liver is compromised
- Monitoring liver and kidney values periodically is recommended
- The kidneys can be adversely affected if already compromised, requiring different type of pain reliever be used
Possible Side Effects:
A range of adverse effects are possible, from a mild upset stomach to more serious organ problems, and you should monitor your pet closely for:
- Decreased appetite or refusal to eat
- Vomiting or diarrhea (especially with blood)
- Depression or lethargy
Symptoms may especially occur within the first 3-4 weeks of administration. If your pet shows any of these signs after starting medication, discontinue use of the drug and call the office. Chances are that your pet is just experiencing some mild stomach upset (which can often be avoided by giving the drug on a full stomach), but it is best to be cautious if these signs are observed.
Avoiding Drug Interactions
NSAID side effects are far more common if more than one type (i.e.: aspirin and Rimadyl, Deramaxx and Metacam, etc.) are given simultaneously, or if given with a steroid such as prednisone or dexamethasone.
For this reason, it is very important to tell your veterinarian if your pet is taking any other medication or if your pet has had significant side effects from any other drugs, even medications taken for other reasons.
Some dogs that do not appear to be helped by one NSAID may respond to another, so a change from one to another may be necessary. A rest or ‘washout’ period is needed in this case, to avoid possible side effects. This period may range from 3-10 days, depending on the drugs involved. Switching from aspirin to another NSAID requires the longest washout period. Do not give your dog any medication of this class without consulting your veterinarian first.
NSAIDs, like any other drug, carry the small possibility of side effects, but overall, they have been of great value in maintaining a good quality of life, particularly in our aging pets. Please ask your veterinarian if you have any questions about your pet’s current medications.
Wellness is a key aspect to maintaining healthy and graceful senior years. As dogs age, their body tissues start to break down, muscles and nerves fire less rapidly and joints stiffen. All of this leads to a decrease in mobility. The goal of physical rehabilitation for senior dogs is to keep those joints mobile and maintain muscle memory and nerve pathways.
What is Animal Physical Rehabilitation?
The goal of physical rehabilitation is to improve mobility, range of motion and use of joints and muscles. Treatment techniques vary, and much of the physical rehabilitation can be taught to owners to do at home.
- Joint mobilization
- Soft tissue massage and use
- Aquatic therapy
- Therapeutic exercise that target trouble areas
How Can Physical Rehabilitation Help My Senior Pet?
Rehabilitation can prevent future injury by helping to maintain or even regain muscle and skeletal health. Keeping your pet active, particularly in the winter when older dogs have difficulty with slippery ice, helps with weight management and prevents the loss of further muscle mass and increase of joint stiffness.
One of the best tools for older arthritic dogs is aqua therapy. The buoyancy of the water allows for a low impact exercise, while the resistance of the water proves to be quite a workout. This is perfect for arthritic patients.
For dogs with neurologic dysfunction swimming in the tub can help reinvigorate nerve pathways and regain use of their hind end.
The Joint Anatomy Consists of:
- Articulating bones
- A fibrous capsule enclosing the joint
- A slippery lubricating joint fluid to facilitate joint motion
- Cushions of cartilage to facilitate frictionless gliding
Cartilage consists of what is called matrix, which makes up 95% of cartilage. Chondrocytes secrete matrix and make up the other 5% of cartilage material. Cartilage matrix consists of tough, structural fibers called collagen.
Proteoglycans soak up water and create a cushion similar to a waterbed, which helps to absorb the pressure exerted on the joint as it works. The proteoglycan molecule looks something like a bottle brush: it has a long handle (the “proteo” part) and the long bristles called glycosaminoglycans (or GAGs) that soak up the water.
Over the years, through either injury or poor conformation, cartilage wears down or is damaged, and arthritis results. The body must then make more matrixes and will require the raw materials to do so. Polysulfated GAGs may be injected into the body, where they will be distributed to any joints currently undergoing cartilage repair.
It turns out that polysulfated GAGs represent more than just building materials. They have anti-inflammatory properties of their own, which help slow down the actual damage to the cartilage. Beyond simply making more matrixes, they promote enzyme systems that facilitate other aspects of joint repair and help the joint create more lubricating fluid.
Adequan® is a polysulfated glycosaminoglycan.
- Adequan® is given as an injection and so is able to reach all joints but it seems to have a special affinity for damaged joints.
- Adequan® should be avoided in patients with blood clotting abnormalities as a matter of caution.
- Adequan® is best given as a series of injections, starting twice a week for a month, then once a week for a month, then every other week for a month and finally, once monthly.
- After an effect is seen, Adequan® injections are given on an as needed basis.
- Adequan® is formally approved for use in dogs and horses but may also be used in cats with good results.
- Adequan® may be combined with NSAIDs and with glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate.
Arthritis is Graded 1 through 4 According to Symptoms and Affects
- Grade 1: Young dog predisposed to arthritis due to conformation or injury.
- Grade 2: Minimal existing joint disease causing infrequent symptoms.
- Grade 3: Moderate Degenerate Joint Disease causing intermittent lameness.
- Grade 4: Severe DJD with debilitating loss of function.
Treatment plan for each grade of arthritis:
|Modality||Grade 1||Grade 2||Grade 3||Grade 4|
|1. Weight control||x||x||x||x|
|2. Low impact exercise||x||x||x||x|
|3. Omega 3 EFA||x||x||x||x|
|6. NSAID||–||low dose||daily||daily|
Specifics of the arthritis pain control plan:
- Weight control: Studies confirm overweight dogs show more arthritic pain.
- Low impact exercise: Walk, run and play on natural surfaces, avoid pavement and weekend warrior syndrome.
- Omega 3 EFA (EPA): Essential fatty acids have a natural anti-inflammatory effect. One such supplement is Welactin.
- Dasuquin: glucosamine, chondroitin, ASU supplement that supports joint health.
- Adequan: An injectable compound that supports the cartilage matrix.
- NSAID: Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drug. Eliminate and prevent inflammation and the cause of degenerative joint disease. The main drugs that we use are Deramaxx, Metacam and Rimadyl. *Important: DO NOT give Aspirin or any over the counter medication with NSAIDs
- Rehab for arthritis: Goals are to decrease pain, increase range of motion and build strength and mobility. Low impact exercise, land treadmill, underwater treadmill, hot tub or bathtub, flex and extend, massage and obstacle course may be used.
- Pain Control: Required once degenerative joint disease becomes advanced and limits a dog’s mobility. Tramadol and gabapentin help prevent transmission of pain to the brain.
For Dogs Approaching End Stage:
- Tramadol 2-10 mg/kg three times a day
- Gabapentin 2-20 mg/kg twice a day
- Amantadine 3-5 mg/kg once a day
Certain fats have been found to have anti-inflammatory properties. This finding has primarily been used in the treatment of itchy skin, but many arthritic dogs and cats have also benefited from fatty acid joint supplements.
While there are no toxic issues to be concerned with, these products require at least one month to build up to adequate amounts. Effects are not usually dramatic but can be helpful.
- Omega 3 fatty acids can be used in dogs and cats.
- Omega 3 fatty acids can be combined with other treatments.
Welactin® Canine – Softgel Caps
One Capsule Delivers:
Total Omega 3 Fatty Acids………………….…..300 mg
Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)…………………..155 mg
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)……………….…100 mg
Dosing: Give 1 capsule per 20 pounds of your dog’s body weight daily
Ingredients: Fish oil, gelatin, glycerin, water, natural peppermint oil and mixed tocopherols.
Welactin® Canine – Liquid
One 6ml Scoop Delivers:
Total Omega 3 Fatty Acids……………………….1,450 mg
Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)………………….…750 mg
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)……………..………500 mg
5-9 lbs: ½ scoop every other day
10-19 lbs: ½ scoop daily
20-44 lbs: 1 scoop daily
45-79 lbs: 1 ½ scoops daily
8-114 lbs: 2 scoops daily
Over 115 lbs: 2 1/2 scoops daily
Ingredients: Salmon oil, fish oil, mixed tocopherols, mono-and diglycerides, soybean oil, citric acid and rosemary extract.
Welactin® Feline – Softgel Caps
One Capsule Delivers:
Total Omega 3 Fatty Acids………………………250 mg
Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)……………………125 mg
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)……………………85 mg
Dosing: Give contents of one softgel capsule daily. Twist end of cap to open and squeeze contents directly onto food. (Do not feed gelatin capsule to your cat, administer contents of capsule only.)
Is a proprietary blend of 5 different nutraceutical supplements that work together to provide joint support. It comes in 3 different weight dependent sizes.
Dosing: The dose for all dogs is one chew daily of the appropriate size (up to 40#, 40-80# and over 80#).
Senior Cat Health
As with any animal, there are natural changes in the body that occur with advancing age. Cats are no exception. There are expected behavioral and physical changes that most cats will exhibit in their senior years.
What is Normal for an Aging Cat?
It is important to notice normal age related changes so we can more clearly identify abnormalities and address these concerns early on. It is also important to recognize that most of the normal age related changes we see are very gradual. Any abrupt physical or behavioral change should prompt a veterinary visit. The following is a list of some of the more common age related changes to expect:
- Claws can become thicker and more brittle. Because older cats don’t sharpen their claws as much, they also tend to over grow and can grow around into the pad leading to infection and pain.
- Diminished hearing is very common in older cats. Diminished vision also occurs but generally not to the same degree as hearing loss.
- Lenticular sclerosis (cloudiness of the lens of the eye) is a normal age related change and can be seen as early as 8 years. The pupils are not as “jet black” as they used to be. Lenticular sclerosis is not to be confused with cataracts, however. Cataracts are never normal and can be seen in cats with sugar diabetes.
- Older cats tend to lose muscle mass and are thinner than when they are younger. Much of this muscle wasting is normal but can be an indicator of conditions like kidney disease or sugar diabetes.
- They are less playful and tend to sleep more. They may become increasingly finicky about their food and eat with less vigor.
Remember, many of the above signs of aging can also occur with medical problems. If there is any question regarding a particular sign in your aging cat a physical exam is warranted. Additionally, cats older than 10-12 years of age should, ideally, be examined every 6 months. Many signs of illness are very subtle. Because older cats are more likely to develop problems, early detection of disease via more frequent visits will aid us in promoting healthier, longer living senior citizens.
As any cat owner knows, our feline friends are fairly independent creatures. Relatively self-sufficient and only loosely social, cats seek attention from their “caretakers” (slaves might be a better description!) on their terms only. And, although some cats are dog-like in their interactions with their human counterparts, the majority are happy in relative solitude seeking companionship only occasionally during the day.
It is this “keeping a low profile” or “behind the scenes” type of behavior that often allows subtle signs of illness to go undetected. With this in mind, it is possible for an illness to be in an advanced state before an owner even recognizes their cat is actually sick. Being watchful for these subtle changes is an important part of ensuring our feline companions stay healthy and live long happy lives.
What Are the Subtle Signs of Illness in a Cat?
- Increase in Thirst or Urination (bigger clumps in the litter pan): are the early signs of sugar diabetes and kidney disease among others. Inappropriate urination/defecation (going outside the box)- Although some cats will do this for behavioral reasons, medical conditions like arthritis, kidney disease, bladder infection, constipation and diabetes can lead to this behavioral change.
- More Frequent Trips to the Litter Box: Cats with an irritated bladder (a very common problem) will feel like they have to urinate all the time so will be making many more trips to the box attempting to urinate. Constipation may also lead to more frequent trips to the box.
- Changes in Appetite (either increased or decreased): Increased appetite can be caused by hyperthyroidism, diabetes and intestinal problems. Decreased appetite can be caused by a variety of disease processes some of which can be very significant and potentially life threatening. Regardless of cause, any cat that stops eating is at risk of developing a life threatening illness involving the liver (hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver disease).
- Increased Vocalization: Can be behavioral in origin (anxiety potentially) but is also present in some disease processes (most notably hyperthyroidism).
- Unexplained Weight Loss or Gain: In breeds with really long or thick fur, this may not be really obvious. Feel your cat along the ribs. They should be easily felt but not prominent.
- Changes in Grooming Habits: Excessive grooming can be caused by some skin conditions and anxiety. Decreased grooming can be caused by many illnesses (including pain associated with arthritis).
- Bad Breath: Some medical problems like diabetes and kidney disease can lead to bad breath. Dental disease, however, is the number one cause. Many cats develop dental disease and some have significant problems as young as 2-3 years of age. Routine cleaning, when indicated, is very important for your cat. More often than not, in cats with advanced dental disease, multiple extractions are necessary. For this reason alone it is important to have your cat examined at least once a year.
- Becoming More Quiet/Reclusive/Hiding: Cats sleep 16 plus hours a day under normal conditions (much of which is light/easily roused sleep or “catnapping”). Watch closely for signs your cat is sleeping more or is not being as interactive with you or their furry friends.
- Third Eyelids Are Visible: When a cat is waking or sleepy the third eyelids (or nictitating membranes) may be visible. But when alert and awake they are normally retracted and not evident. Persistent protrusion of the third eyelid can be caused by problems of the eye(s) or nervous system. But it can also be seen in almost any cat that is just not feeling well.
As with any species, most disease processes are more common in older individuals. In cats, dental disease, hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer are among the more common.
Hyperthyroidism is caused by the over production of thyroid hormones due to, in most cases, a benign tumor on the thyroid. The hallmark hyperthyroid cat has increased activity, vocalization and appetite while exhibiting weight loss. They also tend to have increased thirst and urination. Treatments include radioactive Iodine, surgical removal (both curative) or daily medication for life.
In cats who do not brush their teeth daily (I dare say all cats!), normal oral bacteria produce an accumulation of plaque and tartar on the teeth. Left unchecked, dental disease can be very significant in the cat. Inflammation of the gums (gingivitis) and erosion of the teeth (feline oral resorptive lesions) are common findings in advanced dental disease. Many of these advanced cases require lengthy dental procedures and multiple extractions. Routine dental prophylaxis under general anesthesia can go a long way in preventing severe dental disease and help preserve your cats teeth well into old age.
Chronic Kidney Failure
Most cases of Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) in cats results from progressive and irreversible scarring of the kidneys (termed Nephrosclerosis). This progressive kidney dysfunction leads to diminished ability to remove waste from the blood and decreased ability to conserve the body’s water balance (leading to excess thirst and urination). The cause of nephrosclerosis is unknown. It is the number one disease of older cats and affects 1 in 5 cats over 15 years of age according to the Feline Advisory Board. There is no cure. Fortunately, most cats can be managed medically and live for years with CRF.
Diabetes & Obesity
Diabetes is common in obese older cats. The disease results in a decrease in insulin production by the pancreas and subsequent high blood sugar levels. If left untreated, diabetes can be a life threatening disease. The hallmark symptoms of sugar diabetes are excess thirst and urination and increased appetite. In almost every case of sugar diabetes, twice daily insulin injections are required to control the disease initially. The good news for cats is that with proper diet (a low carbohydrate canned food) many can ultimately be controlled with diet alone.
Arthritis in Cats
Cats are sneaky and tend hind joint pain and arthritis from us. Unfortunately, cats are tricky to treat as well. The majority of NSAIDs and pain control medications that are safely used in humans and dogs can be toxic to cats. Starting cats on an Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acid supplement like Dasuquin or Welactin is a good place to start. Call or schedule and appointment with one of our veterinarians to discuss if an arthritis pain management plan may be appropriate for your senior kitty.”
Helping your senior cat age gracefully and stay healthy starts at home. There are lots of little things you can do to reduce stress, minimize risk of fall/injury and maintain muscle mass. All of these components will help promote a good quality of life for your aging feline friend.
What is Wellness?
Wellness is about more than medicine. It is all the parts of your cat’s lifestyle that contribute to their mental and physical health. As cats age it is harder for them to do some of the things that made them happy and healthy when younger. Recognizing difficulties your older cat may have and making minor changes in their environment can significantly impact your kitties overall well being!
As cats get older, their joints and muscles become sore, making them less flexible. This can make grooming difficult, leading to matting and poor coat condition. Help out your kitty by routinely brushing or combing them. Removing loose hairs will help prevent hairballs and matting. Their skin and coat will be much healthier and most kitties enjoy a gentle brushing.
Your cat’s nutritional needs change with advancing age. Older cats are less active and require a diet that is less calorically dense. Some are prone to obesity while others, often due to underlying diseases like diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and kidney disease, have difficulty maintaining weight. To ensure proper nutrition, we will help you select a nutritionally balanced and complete diet suitable for your cat’s life stage and medical needs.
Arthritis is very common in older cats. Because of decreased flexibility and discomfort, getting to their favorite perches or even onto your bed may be very difficult for them. Setting up a ramp or stairs to their favorite spots can make a world of difference. Make sure there are resources like food, water, litter, bedding and toys on every level in your home. Litter boxes should have low sides for easy access.
There are also supplements and medications we can recommend or prescribe to help alleviate the discomfort associated with arthritis. If you feel your feline senior citizen is having mobility issues, please set up a time for us to investigate the potential causes and come up with an individualized treatment plan.
*Remember nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like aspirin are potentially very toxic to cats. Do not use any of these compounds unless under the direct supervision of a veterinarian.
Exercise and Play
In addition to arthritis and associated difficulties noted above, older cats don’t have the same drive for play and exercise. Regularly engaging your cat in moderate play can promote muscle development, increase flexibility, and increase blood circulation. It can also help battle obesity.
Remove or Reduce Stress
Stress taxes your cat’s immune system and organs. Try to minimize stress wherever possible. If your cat has to travel or stay at a boarding facility make sure they have a favorite toy or blanket. Consider spraying the blanket in their carrier with a calming feline pheromone (Feliway) as a way of helping alleviate stress/anxiety. Please also see the ”Cat Stressors” section under the Adult Wellness and Care tab for more detailed information in this area.