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Aging Pets Need Special Care: Expert

FRIDAY, Oct. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Old age seems to sneak up on pets just as it does in people.

Long before you expect it, Fido and Snowball are no longer able to bolt out the door or leap onto the bed. But with routine visits to the vet, regular exercise and good weight control, you can help your beloved pet ward off the onset of age-related disease, one veterinary expert suggests.

"Aging pets are a lot like aging people with respect to diseases," Susan Nelson, a Kansas State University assistant professor of clinical services, said in a university news release. Diabetes, chronic kidney disease, cancer, osteoarthritis, periodontal disease and heart disease are among the problems pets face as they grow older, she noted.

"Like people, routine exams and tests can help detect some of these problems earlier and make treatment more successful," Nelson added, making a special reference to heartworm prevention and general vaccinations.

"It's also important to work closely with your veterinarian," Nelson said, because "many pets are on more than one type of medication as they age, just like humans."

Cats between 8 and 11 years (equal to 48 to 60 in human years) are considered "senior," while those over the age of 12 fall into the category of "geriatric," Nelson explained.

For dogs it depends on weight: those under 20 pounds are considered senior at 8 years, and geriatric at 11 years. Those 120 pounds and up, however, are considered senior at 4 years and geriatric at 6 years, with a sliding age-scale applied to canines between 20 and 120 pounds.

Nelson said that to catch problems early, older cats and dogs need to be taken in for a semiannual health exam and lab tests. "Diseases such as systemic hypertension and diabetes mellitus are just a few that can occur at a relatively young age and often take owners by surprise. Urinary or fecal incontinence are other issues that may occur as your pet matures," she added.

"Such actions obviously can't prevent all diseases, but when caught early, many diseases can be managed" and the good quality of life extended, Nelson said.

Nelson also wants owners to be aware that pet behavior can shift with age if mental problems such as senility, phobias and various anxieties take hold. Disorientation can ensue, alongside changes in eating habits and the tendency to sleep more.

The risk for joint problems also grows with age, and older pets should not be encouraged to run or jump as much as they might have in the past. Swimming and walking are good alternatives, she suggested, and supplements and medications can help keep pain from arthritis at bay.

Overall, Nelson advises owners to "give your senior pets lots of TLC -- tender, loving care." That, she said, can go a long way towards easing the aging process.

More information

For more on aging dogs, visit the ASPCA.

-- Alan Mozes

SOURCE: Kansas State University, news release, Oct. 19, 2010

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