Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Aging Pet Needs Extra Care


Pet Column for the week of August 30, 1999


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
By Sarah Probst
Information Specialist

"Your pet ages seven times faster than you do; consequently, the potential for age-related
disease also progresses seven times as fast," says Dr. William Tranquilli, veterinarian and
anesthesiologist retired from the University of Illinois Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital in
Urbana. "At the age of seven (when your pet is about 50 in people years), we suggest
biannual visits with your veterinarian. That may seem like a lot, but if you think of it in terms
of how fast your pet is aging, it would be like a person going for an annual physical every 3
to 4 years," explains Dr. Tranquilli. Also realize that large dogs age faster than smaller dogs.
The attached table shows how old your pets really are and how fast they are aging.



Dog's Age up to 20 pounds 21-50 pounds 51-90 pounds over 90 pounds
6
40
42
45
49
8
48
51
55
4
10
56
60
66
78
12
64
69
77
93
14
72
78
88
108
16
80
87
99
123
18
88
96
109
20
96
105
120


During biannual visits, ask your veterinarian to do a lab analyses-complete blood count,
urinalysis, fecal exams, and chemistry profiles. Having these tests done twice a year helps
veterinarians detect any age-related disease that your pet may be developing before the
disease progresses too far.

As your pet ages, the chances of its developing a life-threatening disease such as kidney
failure and cardiac disease increase. Prevention and early detection of these diseases are
imperative to extend the life of your beloved companion. Taking a preventive approach to
your dog's senior status could increase the amount of time you get to spend with your
companion.

Part of prevention includes controlling your pet's weight. This decreases the rate that your
pet ages and definitely decreases susceptibility to serious diseases. Older dogs naturally
decrease their activity and thus have reduced energy needs. It's not necessary to feed your
11-year-old Dalmatian, Johnny, as much as the 2-year-old Sparky. Ask your veterinarian
what diet and amount of food is best for your dog's age and activity level.

Besides increased veterinary visits and weight watching, be sure to monitor your pet's
behavior. "Behavioral changes are some of the earliest signs of disease," says Dr. Tranquilli.
Changes that may indicate a problem include confusion, decreased interaction with family
members, inconsistent sleeping pattern, or loss of house training. You know your pet's
behavior best, so trust your judgment.

Other behavioral changes are associated with specific diseases. As in humans, arthritis may
become a problem in senior pets. Watch for stiffness, lameness, reluctance to climb steps
or jump up, and perhaps difficulty rising after lying down. Dermatologic problems may also
increase with age because of metabolic changes. Increased water intake, increased
urination, increased weight loss, and decreased appetite may indicate developing kidney
disease.

Dental problems increase with age as well. Juno may not need a full set of dentures like
Great Aunt Selma, but watch for increased salivation, bleeding, and inflammation, which
may result in serious infection and loss of appetite.

Veterinarians understand that your pet is part of the family and they are willing to assist you
with your health care decisions as your companion ages. Your local veterinarian can help
you give your senior pet the best quality of life for as long as possible.