February 2023 Newsletter

This Month's Featured Article

Our Senior Pets and Preventative Medicine

Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine our pets are not only living longer, but they’re living better quality lives too. I have a great passion for providing the best quality care for our senior patients at Gawler Animal Hospital. I want to ensure that their life is as comfortable as possible. So, I thought we could reflect on some of the major issues that our senior pets face and some of the preventative measures that we, as a veterinary profession, try and implement to ensure they have the best quality of life.
It is important to remember that age itself is not a disease process. So, what is considered old/senior? For dogs, we used to believe that 1 dog year was equivalent to 7 human years; this theory has since been debunked, since it did not take into consideration the different breeds of dogs. For example, a small-breed dog will likely live longer than a larger-breed dog. Because of this, a newer and more generalised approach is to categorise all dogs older than 7-years-old as ‘senior’. For cats, we have 3 groups of cats; mature (7-10 yrs.); senior cats (11-14 yrs.) and geriatric (15+ yrs.).
Getting older is a natural and gradual process which, like in humans, predisposes our pets to certain health issues. Hence, a lot of our attention in our older/senior population is picking up these issues before they become a problem. This is where our preventative medicine comes into play.

The 6 monthly health checks
Once your pet is in the “senior category”, we recommend switching from yearly to 6-monthly health checks. This might seem quite frequent, especially if your pet appears to be healthy from the outside, however, as mentioned above pets to age more quickly than humans. Additionally, our pets are very stoic and sometimes do not show signs of being unwell until the very end. Hence, with the increased frequency of health checks, we aim to pick up diseases sooner, with the hope that we can intervene quicker and have a better outcome. The 6-monthly health check provides a great opportunity to discuss how your pet is going and to address any concerns you may have. Your vet will perform a full physical examination which is sometimes accompanied by the following diagnostic tests; blood pressure measurements; a more extensive ophthalmoscope (eye) exam; a senior wellness blood test; and a urine test. Not all these tests are required in each case and will be tailored according to your pet’s needs.

Common senior issues
Some of the key health issues we are likely to focus on, in senior patients, include the following: (We also have a range of information sheets on our website regarding some of these health issues which can be found in the library section – so please feel free to check these out!!)

Dental disease
• Dental disease is one of the most common issues affecting our companion animals, even from very early on in life.
• It is often overlooked and possibly missed by many owners but it can cause great morbidity in our elderly patients. Watching your pet eat at home is one of the things you can actively do to pick up dental disease early.
• If you notice any changes in their eating behaviour – such as, they drop their food, eat on one side, eat more slowly or show less interest in a particular type of food – it could indicate dental disease.
• If dental disease is noted by your veterinarian, then they will recommend a COHAR (complete oral health assessment with radiographs under a full general anaesthetic). Many owners are understandably hesitant with general anaesthetics; however, it is vitally important that dental disease is addressed and managed promptly as it can lead to other several significant health issues.

• Arthritis is a condition where inflammation within affected joints causes progressive damage, leading to irreversible cartilage and bone deterioration. It affects many of our elderly patients and can be a painful and debilitating disease.
• There are subtle signs you may notice at home which could indicate that your pet is suffering from arthritis including behaviours such as;
o being slow and stiff to rise,
o becoming less interactive with other pets or people at home,
o reluctant to jump up onto or off of things,
o not wanting to go for walks,
o not wanting to play anymore,
o become lame or they may cry when being picked up.
• Unfortunately, we cannot cure our pets from arthritis, however we can treat and slow down its progression
• We use what’s called a “multi-modal” approach which basically means that there may be multiple supportive measures implemented to treat and manage the condition. Some of these may include:

o Weight loss
 Which will place less strain on the joints and muscles
o Physical therapy
 Gentle regular exercise like walking or hydrotherapy
 Physiotherapy sessions may be beneficial for some pets
o Medications
 Anti-inflammatory medications are the most commonly prescribed, which reduce inflammation within the joint and provide your pet with pain relief
 Again, we use a muti-modal approach with medications. Some medications work more effectively when combined with another medication
o Nutraceuticals

 These encompass supplements that act directly at the joint to reduce inflammation and most importantly try to slow down cartilage degradation. There are many on the market but here are a few we recommend:
• Omega 3 and Omega 6 oils
• Chondroitin
• Glycosaminoglycans
• Pentosan polysulphate (zydax injections)
o These are given at the clinic. Your pet will receive 1 injection every week for 4 treatments, then normally they receive a booster every 6 months.
o These can be given more frequently if required
• 4cyte
• Glyde
o Other things
 Ramps –to help get into/out of cars particularly for large breed dogs
 Comfortable bedding
 Avoid them jumping onto/off of couches or assisting them with this

Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (“dementia”)
• It is a progressive, debilitating condition that resembles closely to Alzheimer’s disease and senile dementia in humans’
• It is a relatively new area of research in veterinary medicine
• It can have a significant impact not only on the pet, but for those caring for these patients
• Some of the signs you may notice include:
o Spatial disorientation (unaware of their surroundings)
 Staring at walls, looking blankly into space
o Lack of interest in playing
o Disrupted sleep cycles/sleeping more than normal
o Loss of learned behaviours
 Urinating/defecating inside
o Vocalisation (particularly in the middle of the night)
o Change in interest in food/water (increased/decreased)
o Decreased grooming (cats)
o Changes in general behaviour (increased anxiety, decreased responsiveness)
o Aimless wandering, pacing
• Some of the signs above may not all be attributed to dementia, so your vet will likely investigate further to determine what is going on
• Unfortunately, we cannot cure this condition but we can reduce the clinical signs with environmental modification and medications (which can improve brain function).
• Your vet will discuss these options with you as they have to be individualised to the patient.

As our pets age, so do their nutritional requirements. The main goal in feeding our senior pets is to promote longevity whilst keeping a healthy body condition (weight).
In regards to nutrition, there is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution, so a feeding plan (diet, amount etc) has to be tailored according to your pet’s needs. Ultimately, the most important goal is to ensure they’re getting a balanced diet and they’re fed the correct amount to maintain an ideal body condition score.

Loss in vision/hearing loss
Vision deficits and hearing loss can be a slow degenerative disease that affects many of our senior patients. As they can be slow to develop, they can be missed by many owners.
Some of the signs you may notice at home include;
• having issues seeing at night time,
• walking into objects,
• being unaware of their surroundings or
• They can no longer hear their name being called.

Preventatives including vaccination, worming, heartworm and flea treatment
From the minute your pet comes in for its first kitten or puppy vaccinations, they are prevented against easily transmissible diseases through vaccinations and worming. It is important that we continue these preventative measures as they age, to ensure we keep them as healthy as possible.

If you are concerned about any of the above conditions, it’s important that you seek advice from your veterinary professional. Each patient’s condition will be evaluated and a treatment plan for your pet will be individualised and tailored to their specific needs.
Gawler Animal Hospital will likely send you out a senior questionnaire before your appointment. It is very useful if you can fill this out in advance, so that we can better prepare for your appointment and better accommodate your pet’s individual needs. I look forward to seeing you and your furry beloveds.

Dr Luisa Panetta


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