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Making your Senior Pet’s Golden Years Shine!

Making your Senior Pet’s Golden Years Shine!

Part 1

Bruce W. Francke, D.V.M.


I’ve been fortunate enough to have practiced veterinary medicine for nearly 30 years in a busy multi-doctor practice. When it comes to companion animal medicine, I’ve experienced pretty much anything that can happen, good and bad. One of the greatest privileges I’ve had is the honor of treating many, many patients from their first puppy/kitten visits, all the way through until we said goodbye. From cradle to grave, we get to share a little piece of the love that our patients give so willingly, as well as the grief that accompanies their last day. People ask me if we become emotionally invested in our patients, and the truth is, we absolutely do. The long and the short of it is, we want the same thing for your senior or geriatric pet that you do.  First, we want them to have a good quality of life, and second, we want them to have as many days of good quality life as possible.

Modern medicine, especially in the last 10-15 years, has given us incredible and unprecedented tools to impact the health of pets. From rapid access to diagnostic testing and imaging that allows us to react to medical needs in real time, to innovative and extremely effective pharmaceuticals and therapeutic diets, to an increased scientific understanding of disease states, this is truly an exciting time to be in the medical field!

According to my friend Dr. Mary Gardner, a leading expert on care of senior pets, 77% of cats 12 years and older, and 69% of dogs 10 years and older, are NOT being seen in the 18 months prior to being euthanized! Dr. Gardner’s data is based on a study of 300 veterinary practices nation-wide. It is important to remember that pets age considerably faster than humans, at a rate of several years for each year of human life. Early intervention is the key to effectively treating most conditions seen in older pets. At the very time that we can help pets the MOST (senior and geriatric years), we are seeing them the least!

No matter how good a tool is, it’s ineffective if you don’t use it, and modern medicine is no different! Knowledge is power! In order for us to use our considerable ability to help your pet get the most of his golden years, we need to collect some data.

The exact age at which a pet enters their “senior years” is somewhat arbitrary, and impacted by things like breed and body size. Dr. Gardner likes to break it down like this for dogs and cats: “Puppy/kitten” <1 year, “Adult” 2-7 years, “Senior” 8-10 years, and “Geriatric” 11+ years.

Here are some of the steps you can take to help us help your pet:

  1. Schedule Routine Check-ups. As your pet enters their senior years, check-ups are recommended at least twice yearly, and maybe more depending on what we find.

  2. Speak up for your pet. Tell us about any changes that you observe at home. Things like changes in weight or appetite. Changes in elimination frequency, or character of the stool.  Changes in behavior. Changes in the skin or hair coat. Changes in mobility.

  3. Let us know what your pet eats and how much.

  4. Let us know what your pet does for exercise and how that exercise is tolerated.

  5. Allow us to run diagnostic tests which can identify health risks before they become evident. These may include routine blood testing, urinalysis, hormone testing, blood pressure screening, ophthalmic tests, electrocardiograms, ultrasounds, or x-rays. These tests are our most powerful tools to impact the health or your pet. In fact, we find at least 35% of the screening tests we do on apparently “healthy” pets discover some abnormality that requires action.    

  6. Continue to do annual screening for life-threatening diseases. These include heartworm infection, tick diseases, intestinal parasites, and others depending on your particular pet’s needs.

  7. Continue your pet’s preventative medicine routine, including monthly heartworm, flea and tick prevention, and vaccinations as we recommend. Pets don’t become magically resistant to these diseases as they age, and may even become more susceptible to some.  

Here are some of the common, and often very treatable, conditions that we identify, by body system:

  1. Dental: periodontal disease, gingivitis, oral cancers

  2. Liver: Inflammatory, degenerative, and cancerous liver disease

  3. Kidney: kidney failure, kidney stones, kidney infection, kidney insufficiency

  4. Heart and Lungs: cardiac disease, pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma

  5. Joints: osteo arthritis (OA), hip dysplasia, spinal disease  

  6. Endocrine System: diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s Disease), hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease), parathyroid disease

  7. Cancer: cancers of the skin, spleen, liver, and lymphoid tissue (Lymphoma)

  8. Ocular: cataracts, dry eye (KCS), glaucoma

  9. Gastrointestinal System: inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), pancreatitis, cancer, colitis

Many of these above-mentioned conditions may seem very scary to you. The fact is we have extremely effective treatments for most of them in today’s world, even many of the cancers! You may be tempted to think that “no news, is good news,” being scared to actually know what conditions your pet may have. This is human nature, but we can’t treat what we don’t know about!

Whole textbooks are written on each of the conditions I mentioned above!  In subsequent blogs, I’ll give you specific examples of how early detection and medical intervention in these key areas can be the key to having a great quality of life in the later years.

To make an appointment for your pet’s senior wellness exam, just give us a call at 989-893-4549!

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