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As Your Pet Ages...

Part of us doesn't want to realize that as we age, our animals age and with it, as for ourselves, aches and pains and disease occur. We do need to be aware of this and watch our animals with this in mind. Many times an owner reports that his animal "just got sick", when, in truth, their pet has been slowly but surely becoming more and more ill over several months. Unlike humans, who readily identify feelings of pain or discomfort and vocalize this to everyone around, animals are much more subtle in the manifestation of their illnesses. Animals tend to hide disease until it overwhelms their system, forcing them to slow down, not eat as well, and not move as agilely since in the wild world, it was survival of the fittest and he who got sick first was preyed upon first.

As animals slow down from a disease, many owners attribute this to "getting old", overlooking the fact that some systemic illness may be, in fact, forcing the cat/dog to sleep more and not move as much. As with any condition, when it is discovered and treated earlier in the course of the illness, the chances for recovery are much better. For this reason, your veterinarian may suggest doing a blood panel or radiographs for your older pet in order to work up something detected on the physical exam (i.e. heart murmur; small kidneys) or just as a general health screen to evaluate your pet's status at that time.

As a veterinarian, taking a thorough history is important in detecting a potential problem or trying to clarify a problem that is actually occurring. We ask questions regarding the animal's general attitude and appetite and rely heavily on the owner for accurate information. We like to know- the water consumption, urine output, presence of vomiting or diarrhea, appetite that is consistently good or poor, the energy level with or without exercise, the degree of interaction with the owner and any variations of what is considered normal for that pet. This helps point us in the right direction in making a diagnosis.

Common diseases that afflict the older pet include kidney disease- with cats, this is usually chronic kidney failure, which is a slow, but progressive shutting down of the kidneys; as they

deteriorate, the toxins that are normally eliminated in the urine accumulate in the body. The kidneys that are responsible for concentration of urine fail in this respect so that the cat will urinate large amounts of dilute urine and consequently, get thirsty but yet, not be able

to keep up with its fluid requirements and be dehydrated. Thus, a veterinarian who has a cat presented for a poor appetite and weight loss and notes dehydration and small kidneys on his/her physical exam will consider chronic kidney failure to be among the first diseases to be ruled out.

Other diseases include diseases of the thyroid gland which in dogs, is hypothyroidism, that is, a thyroid gland that is secreting insufficient levels of thyroid hormone. Such an affected dog slows down, puts on weight although he isn't eating a lot and has a poor quality coat. Cats get the opposite problem and get hyperthyroidism, that is, they have too much thyroid hormone on board and are hyperactive, thin, eat a lot but lose weight and often drink and urinate a lot and may have chronic vomiting or diarrhea problems. Owners often interpret the hyperactivity to being just a healthy older cat, but this cat is one that is constantly seeking food and losing weight and doesn't tolerate being held and is generally irritable. Of course, for some people, this is a description of any normal cat. But owners need to be keyed into what is normal and abnormal for their cat.

Diabetes and Cushing's are two endocrine abnormalities that can cause a house-broken pet to inappropriately urinate in the house. Owners often think that their pets are "mad at them" or trying to get back at them for having left on a weekend outing. But animals are rarely do this and when Fifi urinates large amounts in the middle of the night and is drinking the water bowl dry, revenge is not the driving force.

Most of these diseases are manageable, not curable, the latter being the case when you give medication and the problem permanently goes away. With these afflictions, medication can be given to mitigate the disease but are treatments that are on-going. The purpose is always to improve the quality of life of the pet, as long as they have a conscientious and willing owner.

The above is general veterinary information. Do not begin any course of treatment without consulting your regular veterinarian. All animals should be examined at least once every 12 months.

About the author:

Linda Mar Veterinary Hospital and its cat-only affiliate, Coastal Cat Clinic, are small animal practices located in Pacifica, California. To find a veterinarian or to learn more about the vet clinic and our staff, visit:[]

Written by: Linda Mar Veterinary Hospital

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