Leading causes, and keys to survival
We’ve all been there . . .
You’re walking the pup, and . . . “Is he limping? I didn’t notice that yesterday.”
Or you’re strutting along and wonder, “She sure is panting a lot. It’s not that hot out. Is that normal?”
Or your cat has been sleeping all day. “I know cats sleep a lot, but he used to be so playful.”
Or, “Wow, she sure has been drinking a lot of water lately.”
Or, you’re snuggling with your lovebug and discover a lump.
Another biggie: they didn’t eat breakfast (or dinner) — a huge concern with a pet who never skips a meal.
These occurrences are all the more worrisome when pets are older. Any new, little thing brings trepidation and fear.
It’s hard to believe how time flies, and our pawed companions reach their senior years much faster than we do. Aging is an undeniable part of life and, for pets, along with it comes lumps and bumps, limps and gimps.
It’s easy to recognize the outward signs of aging in a pet: stiffening joints, graying muzzle, slowing gait, and once bright eyes growing cloudy. What can’t be seen but must be remembered is that his or her internal systems are changing too.
So, how can you tell if your senior pet is suffering from a serious health issue or merely presenting signs of age?
Spot spoke with Dr Megan Nyboer, Emergency Director at Cascade Veterinary Referral Center about the most common medical emergencies for pets in their golden years.
Metabolic System Disease
The metabolism makes energy from food and eliminates waste and toxins from the body. Metabolic function is at the core of good physical health. Disorders include anything that disrupt the process, from disease isolated to an organ such as kidney or liver to a systemic disease affecting the body overall such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism.
Early indications of a metabolic problem include increased thirst/urination and weight loss. More advanced signs include decreased appetite, lethargy, vomiting and weakness. “While not curable, metabolic system disease is treatable if caught early,” Nyboer says. The best prevention, she adds, is annual exams and bloodwork for pets six to seven years of age and twice yearly as they get older or as specific health issues arise.
Dr Nyboer says heart disease is very common in both older dogs and cats, but that it can be managed when detected early.
Signs that trouble is brewing for dogs include a cough lasting more than a couple of weeks, lethargy, and intolerance to exercise. Difficulty and/or heavy breathing, severe coughing, and fluid from the nose are more acute symptoms, signifying a possible emergency that may require oxygen.
As with their canine counterparts, sudden onset of heavy breathing and general lethargy in felines are indicators of heart disease, but Nyboer warns that cats often exhibit no symptoms. In fact, she says, cats tend to mask signs of illness better than dogs, often delaying detection.
This underscores the importance of yearly physical exams: early detection is key to being able to manage a disease, and hopefully prolong survival. If a murmur is discovered, for example, it can be monitored, and explored further with additional diagnostic tests.
For pets, incidents of cancer increase with age. According to The Veterinary Cancer Society, cancer is the leading cause of death in 47% of dogs (especially over age 10) and 32% of cats.
With so many different types, cancer follows no iron-clad rule. Symptoms vary, or can be scarce until the disease has become advanced.
The cancer that causes the most life-threatening emergencies — especially in older animals — is Hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive, malignant tumor in blood vessel cells. Because these tumors form in blood vessels, they are frequently filled with blood. When a blood-filled tumor ruptures, it can cause internal bleeding — particularly when the liver or spleen are involved.
“This can happen very quickly and without warning,” says Nyboer. “This an acute, urgent situation where immediate emergency care is needed.”
Because pets may not exhibit symptoms until a problem becomes serious, the doctor urges parents of senior pets to vigilantly watch for listlessness, sudden and unexplained weakness, pale gums, abdominal swelling, difficulty breathing, and collapse.
Regular veterinary examinations and bloodwork establish a baseline for pets, making it easier to detect abnormalities before they become advanced or life-threatening and improving the chances of a longer, healthier life.
You know your pet better than anyone, making you his or her first line of defense. Watch for even small signs that your aging dog or cat is “just not feeling or acting right” and, should they appear, get veterinary care. The sooner you act, the better the chance of a positive outcome for your best friend.
Resource: Cascade Veterinary Referral Center | Cascadevrc.com | 503-684-1800
Vonnie Harris is a freelance writer, and operator of Pet Stop Pit Stop pet sitting services in SW Washington. She resides in Vancouver with Jessie (a yellow Lab), and Pedro & Grey Bird (parrots). Vonnie is “the face of Spot” at many Portland-area pet-related events, and the voice of Spot in social media outlets.