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Health for Your Pets in Dubai – Care for Senior Pets

In their youth, our pets seem to have boundless energy and vitality that we can often take for granted. As owners, we can often be unconscious of the very real fact that, sadly, animals start biological ageing at an early onset. It is understandable that we all would want our beloved companions to live beside us for our whole life. But seeing the statistics of actual longevity really does give us a shocking reality check. Average life expectancies vary from 8 years to 20 years depending on species and breed. The giant breeds of dogs may only reach 8 years whereas toy breeds of dogs and cats will often reach late teens. Of course there will be some exceptions to this, much depends on the individuals genetics, nutrition and care. We generally consider animals entering their senior phase of life in their last third of life expectancy. Giant dog breeds are considered senior around 5 / 6 years of age. Toy dog breeds and cats are classified senior around 10 / 11 years of age.

Care for our senior pet really starts in their youth. Selection of breed and age appropriate nutrition, access to clean fresh water daily, air conditioning in extreme environments, regular parasite control, annual vaccination, six monthly veterinary check ups and dental care on a daily basis with brushing and abrasive chews / toys should, ideally, be routine. Grooming daily especially long haired breeds and careful attention to ingrowing nails. Scientific research shows that neutered animals live longer and suffer less disease compared to un-neutered animals.

Exercise is as important to our pets as in our human lifestyle. Obesity in pets significantly increases risk of heart and lung disease, endocrine diseases e.g. hypothyroidism and diabetes mellitus, musculo-skeletal diseases e.g. osteoarthrosis and organ dysfunction such as fatty liver disease, often seen in obese cats.

We can extrapolate some of our human lifestyle needs very much to our pets requirements to maintain them as healthy, long lived individuals.

So what can we do to maximise our pets quality and quantity of life once they reach that senior age bracket?

Diet should change to a senior menu, these contain lower levels of protein but still of high biological quality, minimising work on the liver and kidneys. Commercial senior menu diets are widely available. Your vet may advise more appropriate prescription diets when indicated. Home made diets are rarely nutritionally balanced, unless carefully researched in all aspects of the nutrients needs for that specific breed.

Maintain regular exercise. The frequency may need to increase and the intensity lessen as ageing joints and hearts will handle this better. Swimming and hydrotherapy are excellent methods of exercise, reducing the weight bearing damage that can occur on land. Consider always environmental effects. Exercise during hot, humid times of the day should be avoided. Shaving your pet will aid heat control. Cool jackets are also available to reduce over-heating.

Be aware of your pets water intake. Increase in thirst is often common sign of organ and hormone dysfunction and should prompt anyone to seek a veterinarian’s advise should it be noted. Early detection of these diseases can make treatment far more successful.

Some diseases can only be detected at an advanced stage, e.g. Chronic liver and kidney failure, very common in small breed dogs and cats. Annual blood and urine testing can give us a useful indication of degeneration of these organs, however an animal has to lose about 66% of the organs function before clinical signs will be seen. This leaves very little spare to maintain the body; greater than 75% loss of function would be fatal. Once diagnosed, specialised diets and supportive medication can extend quality and quantity of life significantly. Continued monitoring is important as further deterioration with high blood pressure changes can appear any-time with chronic renal failure and if caught early, will allow further support of the quality and quantity of life.

It is a good idea to monitor your pet’s bodyweight, keeping records to look at trends in weight gain, loss or stasis. Particularly if you have a long haired breed as the hair can mask change in body condition. Several diseases can have insidious onsets, where the only signs are weight loss. Hidden losses of protein through the kidneys and gastro-intestinal tract can easily go undetected until an advanced stage is reached.

Dental hygiene often gets ignored as animals age. Approximately 80% of dogs have some degree of dental disease from three years old! The fear of anaesthetising one’s pet to de-scale it’s teeth is unfortunately a regular misconception. Disease associated with absorption of bacteria and their toxins through inflamed gums holds more risk to an aged animal than a carefully planned general anaesthetic needed to clean it’s teeth. Like humans, dogs and cats have well developed pain innervation of their teeth and perceive tooth ache just like us. However, our pets often are silent sufferers, rarely vocalising or showing pain on eating. They tend to become more silent, depressed, favouring one side of the mouth whilst eating or pawing at the painful side. Signs that easily go unnoticed; the classic story that one hears is of a pet that has become “Suddenly old” is frequently due to underlying pain. Understandably, removal of this pain has astonishing rejuvenation of many affected animals.

We see chronic pain associated with osteoarthritis common in senior animals. You may see the start of this as being stiff on getting up from rest and then the stiffness eases after a few minutes of exercise. Don’t forget that an animal’s tolerance to pain is much greater than that of a human, so for a dog or cat to be lame there is real pain involved that should be taken seriously. Diagnosis requires the examination by a vet and usually supported by x-ray imaging. Again, early detection will result in greater treatment success and long term use of the affected area.

Heart disease is very common in dogs and cats. Most commonly is valvular heart disease whereby the valves inside the heart fail to close completely with each heart beat, leading to a back flow of some of the blood creating increased workload on the heart and lungs. The turbulent blood flow through the leaky valve creates a noise called a heart murmur audible with a stethoscope. Advancing signs of heart disease include coughing particularly under exercise or stress, poor exercise tolerance, increased respiratory and heart rate, fluid collection in the thorax and/or abdomen, blue colour ( cyanosis) to mucous membranes in the eye or mouth. Regular, competent veterinary examination will detect these at an early stage.

Dogs and cats are sadly genetically prone to cancer. Some breeds eg Boxer and Mastiffs are especially over represented with this disease. There are many factors involved with the onset of a mutation leading to development of cancer. Suffice it to say, any new lump or mass arising anywhere on a senior pet should immediately alert you to take him or her to your vet for examination. Most masses require biopsy to diagnose. It is important to remember that doing a fine needle aspirate (using a syringe and needle to suck some cells out of the mass for identification) can be as much as 50% inaccurate . When possible, submission of the whole mass for histopathology is ideal. With accurate identification correct treatment and prognosis can be given.

There are some ageing changes that one can do little to prevent. Changes in hearing and sight are not uncommon. One often sees a slight blue opacity of the eye lens in senior pets. This is called lenticular sclerosis and has minimal affect on vision. It should not be confused with the white opacity caused by cataracts. These do cause blindness but can be routinely removed by laser phaeco-removal restoring vision. It is important to seek a veterinarians opinion as there may be underlying systemic disease causing cataract formation.

The fundamentals are clear, prevention really is better than cure. Many diseases can only be detected before clinical signs appear by laboratory analysis of blood, urine and faeces. Your veterinarian may advise annual checks of these tests for a senior pet. If disease is detected, more regular monitoring is likely to be required. Our commitment to our pet does increase with their ageing needs, but that responsibility comes as part of the immense privilege and deep bond we share with our companions and the unconditional love they unequivocally bestow upon us

Article Courtesy of Dr Max Spicer at The Veterinary Hospital

If you are looking to move your pet to or from Dubai contact Move One Pet Transportation

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