With all the advances of medicine, our dogs and cats are living longer, healthier lives. As your dog or cat ages, you can have your pet checked for early signs of diseases. The earlier a problem can be detected, the better the chance to treat the pet and get a successful outcome.
Pets begin to develop diseases common to their senior human counterparts, such as cancer, diabetes, kidney problems, heart disease, and thyroid problems. These diseases, as well as others, can go unnoticed in early stages; therefore, preventive health care is important. The earlier the detection, the more we can minimize suffering and consequences with disease. Dogs and cats are considered senior pets starting between ages 6-7. By working closely with your veterinarian, your pet can have preventive health screens run in order to better assess his/her overall health. The tables below can show you how old your pet is compared to a human. The table is courtesy of Idexx Laboratory Services and was developed by Dr. Fred L. Metzger, DABVP.
AGE WEIGHT (in pounds) 0-20 21-50 51-90 >91 1 7 7 8 9 2 13 14 16 18 3 20 21 24 26 4 26 27 31 34 5 33 34 38 41 6 40 42 45 49 7 44 47 50 56 8 48 51 55 64 9 52 56 61 71 10 56 60 66 78 11 60 65 72 86 12 64 69 77 93 13 68 74 82 101 14 72 78 88 108 15 76 83 93 115 16 80 87 99 123 17 84 92 104 131 18 88 96 109 139 19 92 101 115 20 96 105 120 21 100 109 126 22 104 113 130 23 108 117 24 112 120 25 116 124 COLOR KEY YOUNG ADULT SENIOR GERIATRIC AGE WEIGHT 1-20# 1 7 2 13 3 20 4 26 5 33 6 40 7 44 8 48 9 52 10 56 11 60 12 64 13 68 14 72 15 76 16 80 17 84 18 88 19 92 20 96 21 100 22 104 23 108 24 112 25 116
Below is a list of the most common ailments seen in senior dogs and cats. The list is categorized by the body system.
The top 3 problems seen are periodontal disease, gingivitis and cancer. 85% of dogs and cats over six years of age have dental disease. If left untreated, heart disease, tooth loss, kidney and liver disease, and whole body infection can result. Your veterinarian will discuss an oral exam and teeth cleaning with you.
Inflammatory, degenerative and cancerous liver diseases can be seen as dogs and cats age. Clinical signs can range from decreased appetite, weight loss, diarrhea, vomiting, and increased thirst and urination. If left untreated, low protein levels can result and end up causing edema (fluid accumulation) in the chest and abdominal cavities. Also, clotting disorders can result as well as actual liver failure. Screening tests include physical examination, blood tests, and a urinalysis. Other tests may be needed based on the results of those tests.
Kidney (renal) insufficiency is quite common in older cats. In both dogs and cats, diseases that can come about include kidney insufficiency, kidney failure, kidney stones, and kidney infection. Your pet may exhibit the following signs: increased thirst and urination, weight loss, decreased appetite, back pain, and vomiting. Kidney insufficiency can progress to kidney failure if not addressed early on in the course of the disease. Many animals can be helped if they have early kidney insufficiency. Tests to check the kidneys include a physical exam, blood tests, urinalysis and an ERD (early renal damage) test.
Mitral valve and tricuspid valve insufficiency becomes more common as dogs age. Cats will also develop heart murmurs due to valve insufficiency but a murmur can also be seen in pets with high blood pressure, thyroid problems, kidney problems and cardiac disease. Pneumonia, bronchitis and emphysema can also be seen in older pets. Signs will include decreased energy and stamina, coughing, problems breathing, pot belly appearance and weight loss. Cardiac disease and lung disease can cause problems in the kidneys and liver, as well as poor vascular profusion and death. Listening to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope on physical exam will help detect any problems. An ECG and blood pressure check should also be done.
Mostly seen in dogs, but cats are also affected, arthritis, back disease and hip dysplasia are more prominent in older animals. Lameness, reluctance to walk or use stairs, stiff gait or trouble rising, whining or yelping with certain positions are all signs of joint problems. Arthritis is progressive and leads to decreased activity, thus weight gain, as well as overall pain and discomfort. A thorough history and physical exam will help detect arthritis in dogs and cats. X-rays of joints or the back is also indicated.
This category has numerous diseases that are commonly seen in dogs and cats as they age. The most common diseases seen are diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism (cats), hypothyroidism (dogs), hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease: dogs), and hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s disease: dogs). Because of the different diseases, there will be variable signs. Diabetic animals can show increased thirst and urination, ravenous appetites with weight loss, and an unkempt hair coat. Hyperthyroid cats have increased thirst and urination, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss despite ravenous appetite, increase vocalization, and an unkempt hair coat. Hypothyroid dogs will have weight gain despite being on a diet or no increase in food intake, reduced energy levels, hair loss, a slow heart rate and seeking out warm places. Cushing’s disease will show up as hair loss, potbelly appearance, increased thirst and urination. Addison’s disease will have vague signs such as lethargy, not eating well, vomiting and diarrhea, or even go into shock. Doing annual blood work to check liver and kidney values, blood sugar and cholesterol values, electrolytes and red blood cell/white blood cell numbers can check for many endocrine diseases. Left untreated, any of these diseases will progress to cause irreversible liver and kidney damage, and possible death.
50% of pets over the age of 10 will acquire some sort of cancer. Cancer can come in many forms. It can show up as a skin lump (skin cancer), swollen belly (liver or spleen tumors), swollen lymph nodes (lymphoma), lameness (osteosarcoma), vomiting and diarrhea (Intestinal sarcomas), etc. The signs can range from weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, skin nodules, to bleeding, and vague signs of not doing well. A physical exam, annual blood tests, urine and fecal tests can help look for obvious problems. Ultrasound and x-rays are also indicated in some instances.
Many eye diseases can occur after the age of 8 in dogs and cats. Glaucoma, dry eye and cataracts are just a few of the diseases seen. Cataracts will show up as a hazy hue at the center of the eye. Animals with glaucoma will have light sensitivity, rubbing at their eyes, painful eyes, and bulging eyes. Dry eye can present as thick yellow or mucoid discharge accumulating in the corners of the eyes. Annual intraocular pressure checks will easily identify glaucoma. Annual ocular exams can pick up cataracts and dry eye. Progression of any of these diseases can lead to blindness or loss of the eye.
Very common in dogs and cats, gastrointestinal disease is one of the top problems seen in older pets. Among the common diseases seen are inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, pancreatitis, and cancer. Clinical signs vary and include vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss or fluid gain, decreased appetite and lethargy. Without treatment, further weight loss and declining health will progress with potential death as the final outcome. Checking your pet’s weight at each annual visit can help determine if there is a problem. Annual blood tests, fecal checks and urine tests will also help identify any problems. Other tests may be needed such as x-rays, ultrasound and biopsies.
As your cat and dog ages, it is very important to run these preventative health screens. Many things can change in the course of a year. Because of the fact that animals age faster than humans, we recommend screening exams twice yearly for senior pets. If a problem does exist, we can be so much more successful in treatment with early diagnosis and ensuring you and your pet have many more happy healthy years together. You can help your pet age gracefully by following these recommendations and discussing any worries you have with your veterinarian.