Aging is not a disease, but as we and our pets become advanced in years, we certainly become prone to developing a variety of diseases as wear and tear occurs on the body. It is important as pet owners to be mindful of these common Old Dogmaladies. Often there are interventions available to delay the development of these diseases and/or treat their negative effects on the body. Below is a review of some common diseases we see in the veterinary world.

Perhaps you have witnessed your dog struggle to rise after lying down or your cat hesitates or avoids jumping up to a table that she easily handled in the past. In aged pets, these signs can be consistent with arthritis or degenerative joint disease. A lifetime of activity can take its toll on the joints. Studies have shown that up to 90% of cats over ten years of age have arthritis in at least one joint. Signs can vary from mild inactivity to multi-limb lameness, preventing simple movement. Prevention and treatment of arthritis can be achieved in a variety of ways. A combination of weight management, regular exercise to maintain muscle mass, joint friendly diets and joint supplements (Glucosamine, chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids), and in some cases pain medication, can help improve mobility and decrease discomfort.

Clinical fact…all pets will develop some level of dental disease in their lives. Plaque, tartar, and gingivitis are common findings in dog and cat mouths. Dental disease can begin at a very early age but as time goes by we see the significant effects it can have on oral and general health. Oral pain, halitosis, and loss of teeth are common indicators of advancing dental or periodontal disease. Routine DAILY tooth brushing is the best way to prevent build-up of plaque and tartar. Daily tooth brushing also affords us the ability to examine the mouth for other problems including worn or broken teeth, gingivitis or gingival recession. Annual dental procedures performed at your local veterinarian allow for thorough oral exams, cleaning, and polishing, as well as indentifying oral disease. This becomes much more important in senior pets.

Has your dog been slightly lethargic, gained weight even though he has been fed the same amount of food? Have you noticed your dog’s fur coat looking thin and dull? If so, your dog has clinical signs consistent with Hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is a common disease seen in middle-aged to senior dogs, caused by the thyroid gland’s inability to create a sufficient amount of thyroid hormone. This hormone is involved in many processes in the body. The lack of this very important hormone can cause dermatologic, neurological, ocular, and cardiovascular system problems, as well as affect metabolism. With some simple blood tests, dogs can be easily screened for this disease. Treatment includes supplement of thyroid hormone.

Conversely, has your cat experienced any of these clinical signs: weight loss despite an increased appetite, slightly agitated or aggressive behavior, vomiting? These could be signs of Hyperthyroidism, a common disease noted in middle-aged and senior cats. Hyperthyroidism manifests itself in cats from an inherent hypertrophy, or overgrowth, of thyroid tissue which in turn brings about an increase of thyroid hormone and its effect on the body. Simple blood tests can help diagnose this malady. Treatments include prescription diets, medication, or radioactive iodine therapy. These are all geared toward reducing the overproduction of the hormone and its potential harmful affect on the cat’s body.

Chronic kidney disease or kidney failure is a very common disease we see in our elder feline friends. It comes about from processes, which are not always fully understood, that affect the functional tissue of the kidneys. The kidneys are a very important part of the urinary system that is involved in, but not limited to, the excretion of waste, regulation of water and electrolytes, and red blood cell production. The earliest signs of kidney issues include an increase in urination, of a more water rich urine, and as result increased thirst. Dehydration, weight loss, decreased activity, loss of appetite, vomiting or weakness are signs often noted as the diseases progresses. Blood and urine tests are necessary to diagnose this disease. Treating this progressive disease most commonly involves supportive care with special diets, increased hydration, antacids, and probiotics. With routine monitoring and good support, cats with renal failure can lead relatively comfortable and good quality lives.

Astute observation of our pet’s daily activities, regular routine physical exams by your local veterinarian, and routine lab work can help us recognize the changes in our aging pets and in turn help them live a good quality of life and stay comfortable in their golden years. — Peter Olson, DVM

Peter Olson, DVM, is a 2007 graduate of The Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine. He and his wife Beth share their home with two dogs, two cats, four turtles and a Russian Tortoise.