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Your pet as an OAP

Due to improved veterinary care and dietary habits, pets are living longer now than they  ever have before.

One consequence of this is that pets, along with their owners and veterinarians, are faced with a whole new set of age-related conditions. In recent years, there has been extensive research on the problems facing older pets and how their owners and veterinarians can best handle their special needs.

Q: When does a pet become 'old'?
A:  It varies but cats and small dogs are generally considered geriatric at the age of seven. Larger breed dogs tend to have shorter life spans and are considered geriatric when they are approximately six years of age.

Q: What kinds of health problems can affect older pets?
A:   Geriatric pets can develop many of the same problems seen in older people, such as cancer, heart disease, kidney or urinary tract disease, liver disease, diabetes, joint or bone disease, senility and general weakness.

Q: I know my pet is getting older. How do I help them stay happy and healthy for as long as possible?
A:   Talk to your veterinarian about how to care for your older pet and be prepared for possible age-related health issues. Senior pets require increased attention, including more frequent visits to the veterinarian, possible changes in diet, and in some cases alterations to their home environment.

Q: My older pet is exhibiting changes in behaviour. What's going on?
A:   Before any medical signs become apparent, changes can serve as important indicators that something is different in an older pet, which may be due to medical or other reasons. As your pet's owner, you serve a critical role in detecting early signs of disease because you interact and care for your pet on a daily basis and are familiar with your pet's behaviour and routines. If your pet is showing such changes, contact your veterinarian and provide them with a list of the changes you have observed in your pet. Sometimes, the changes may seem contradictory - such as an older pet that has symptoms of hearing loss but also seems more sensitive to strange sounds.

Q: Is my pet becoming senile?
A:   Possibly. Once any underlying or other disease causes have been ruled out, there is a chance your pet may be experiencing a dysfunction. Studies conducted in the early 1990s were the first to identify brain changes in older dogs that were similar to brain changes seen in humans with Alzheimer's disease (ie, ß-amyloid deposits). Laboratory tests were also developed in the 1990s to detect learning and memory deficits in older dogs. Recently these studies have started on younger dogs in order to fully understand the effect of aging on the canine brain. Similar studies in young and older cats are also ongoing.

While researchers are still not able to identify any genetic cause of why certain animals develop some dysfunction; there are drugs and specific diets available that can help. If you think your pet is becoming senile, discuss it with your veterinarian.

Q: What are the common signs of disease in an older pet?
A:  The signs you might see will vary with the disease or problem affecting your pet, and some signs can be seen with more than one problem. As the pet's owner, you can provide your vet with valuable information that can help them determine what is going on with your pet.

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