We are so lucky that, with modern veterinary treatment, our cats and dogs are living longer and longer. However, just as in humans, this means that more and more of our “golden oldies” are living with niggling little health problems. However, it can be very hard to decide whether something is “just old age” or a subtle early sign of a health problem that needs addressing. That’s what our Senior Clinics are for!

What age does a pet become “senior”?

To some extent of course it depends on the breed – in general, for example, large breed dogs age faster than small-breeds. However, as a general rule, we’d say a dog is a “senior” once they’re over 7 years old, and a cat over 8.

What are the “diseases of old age” in dogs?

The most important are:

  • Arthritis – wear and tear of the joints leads to stiffness, reduced mobility, and reluctance to run, jump or play. This can be confused with “slowing down” and aging, but is actually due to severe pain and discomfort.
  • Dental disease – over 80% of elderly dogs (and cats, for that matter) have some degree of dental disease! This can make eating painful, and can even lead to kidney or heart problems, or even sepsis. So, your old dog may not just be “getting picky”, they may have serious dental health problems!
  • Heart disease – many older dogs have heart problems. In smaller and medium breeds, leaky valves (endocardiosis) are the most common, whereas larger dogs tend to develop a swollen heart (dilated cardiomyopathy). The symptoms include reduced ability to exercise and puffing or panting more – again, this can easily be mistaken for old age.
  • Cancer – as animals age, just like humans, the chances of an abnormal cell growth developing start to increase. In most cases, cancers are diseases of old age, causing a range of signs, including reduced energy levels, weight loss, lumps and bumps.

And what about cats?

Again, arthritis, dental disease and cancer are relatively common. However, there are two additional very common “old age ailments” in cats:

  • Chronic kidney disease – the kidneys filter the blood, but cats are at a significantly increased risk of developing long-term problems as their kidneys work less and less efficiently with age. This results in increased thirst and urination, weight loss, reduced appetite, and sometimes other changes such as anaemia.
  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) – the thyroid gland (in the neck) controls the body’s metabolic rate. Older cats are at a relatively high risk of developing an overactive thyroid, leading to massive increases in metabolic rate. This puts a great deal of stress on their heart, circulatory system, and kidneys, and if untreated may result in sudden and unpleasant death. The early symptoms are weight loss, increased appetite, and “hyper” or “kittenish” behaviour.

But these are all incurable, aren’t they?

Not necessarily – some cancers are curable by removing the growth; overactive thyroids in cats can often be cured with surgery or iodine therapy; and dental disease can in many cases be resolved by a thorough clean and removal of the most diseased teeth. In many cases, though, yes – we cannot cure these conditions, but they can usually be managed!

What do you mean by “managed”?

Long term medication or treatment can allow your older dog or cat to live a long, happy and relatively healthy life untroubled by the symptoms of the disease. We can slow down the disease progression, and reduce the symptoms, allowing them to live with their illnesses for a happy retirement. For example, medications for heart or kidney disease and thyroid problems; painkillers, anti-inflammatories and changes in management for arthritis; and dental hygiene for tooth issues. These may not cure the underlying problem, but they allow your dog or cat to “be themselves” again!

So how do Senior Clinics help?

Well first things first – we need to know if your pet is “just getting older” or is showing signs of a more serious underlying health problem. Our expert nurses can help decide whether there’s something that the vet needs to investigate, and if so, one of the vets can pop in to perform any tests that may be needed. Once we know what we’re dealing with, we can go from there!

Secondly, even if it is “just” old age, there’s an awful lot we can do to help – and our nurses will be able to guide you through any changes or alterations in routine that will help you pet to cope better.

Who will I see?

Usually, one of the nurses in the first instance – although if any problems are picked up, expect one of our vets to do the diagnosis and decide on treatment plans.

How much does it cost?

For a routine senior nurse clinic, the usual price is £21. However, if you’re on a Health Care Plan, it’s only £18.90! And of course, the Senior Health Plan also includes most of the routine “check ups”, such as blood and urine tests, so there would be no extra to pay.

Our older pets deserve good quality care – and the Senior Health Plan is a great way to give them that and save money too! Regular check ups are really important as pets age, so make an appointment to see one of our nurses for a Senior Clinic now.

Christmas is a fun and exciting time. We get to spend lots of precious time with our families, friends and pets. We exchange laughter, love and gifts so why shouldn’t we purchase gifts for our pets too? Below is a list of great presents you could buy for your pet over Christmas.

Christmas presents for pets

There are many different gifts we can buy for our pets:

Toys – many pets love extra entertainment. You can get large chewy toys, squeaky toys or even hollow toys which you can hide food inside (kongs). Be aware when buying squeaky toys – their noises can get frustrating! Toys can be great over the Christmas period should you feel you do not have as much time as normal to play with your pets. Just make sure they’re safe – buy from a reputable retailer and make sure they don’t pose a choking hazard if they get mangled by an over-enthusiastic pet!

Food and water bowls – treat your pet and also your home to new, patterned bowls. You could match them to the rest of your home. These bowls could be self-designed or you could paint your own pattern onto a bowl making them extra special.

Leads – buying your dog a new lead could increase the amount of fun and fashion experienced on your walks. Extendable leads can be great for some dogs as they allow your pet to have more freedom whilst still being held securely, but it’s best to use them cautiously if you have a dog who tends to accelerate away quickly as they could hurt themselves when they reach the full extent of the lead.

Collars and harnesses – you could treat your pet to a new collar or harness, trying out different colours, patterns and even get it to match with the lead.

New jacket – if your pet enjoys going outdoors in the cold, a warm, waterproof jacket may be useful. You can even get “wicking” ones to help your pet dry off after a long wet walk… Be sure to get the correct size!

Bedding and blankets – dress your pet’s bed up… you can make your house look cosy and give your pet a place to snuggle in colder evenings. Absolutely ideal for older, stiffer pets who need their warm spot!

Grooming – many pets enjoy being pampered. You could bathe your pet or book them in with a trusted Groomer to make them smell divine ready for greeting guests…other pets hate being pampered so be careful if you select this as your gift as it may not be appreciated!

Which presents should I avoid?

You should avoid any toys with small parts which may fall off and get stuck in your dog’s throat potentially causing them to choke.

Dressing your pet up seems to be a popular thing to do over the Christmas period however this can cause irritation and anxiety for our pets. Should you decide to dress your pet up, you should keep a very close eye on them as they may get caught on obstacles and become uncomfortable.

Make sure they’re not getting stressed or anxious and if so – STOP and remove the costume.

Christmas dinner for pets

Feeding your dogs a Christmas dinner is a lovely way to get your pets involved in the Christmas treats. Treats can be bought for dogs which taste like Christmas dinner. Visit your local pet store if you seek these treats. You can buy special ‘dog chocolate’ from pet shops too if you really want to give your dog chocolate this Christmas!

Dogs and cats may have small amounts of lean meat from the Christmas dinner but large volumes need to be avoided. Make sure no bones are present as this could cause your dog to choke, or even damage the intestines.

Make sure you remember to let your pets outside on these busy days!

What food should I avoid?

Christmas day is not the time to be trialling out new foods on your pets. We do not know how they will react and in such a busy period, the risk of horrible stomach upsets isn’t worth it! If you feel tempted to treat your pet with food, give your pet foods they regularly eat and enjoy in a portion size similar to normal.

Cocoa is toxic to both dogs and cats so avoid giving them chocolate. The artificial sweetener xylitol is also highly toxic to dogs, so watch out for “low sugar” treats.

Many animals do not cope well with human foods. We eat very rich food groups which can cause stomach upsets in our pets. Even if you regularly feed your pet small amounts of leftover food, larger volumes can have disastrous effects on your pet’s insides.

Don’t feed your dogs or cats any grapes, or desserts containing raisins as they are toxic and can cause sudden organ failure. Anything containing onions, garlic or chives should also be avoided as they cause gastrointestinal irritation and may even lead to anaemia.

Should you be aware of any allergies your pet suffers from, be sure to check the ingredients list before giving the food. Giving too much of the wrong food could lead to sickness and diarrhoea… a Christmas present nobody looks forward to!

But if the worst does happen – give us a call! We’ll have duty vets lined up all through the holidays.