By: Peta Gay Railton
Having senior pets can be fantastic. You know each other, you know each other’s habits and you’ve got a routine happening. Gone are the days of hole-digging and shredded furniture. It’s a beautiful time. But just like us, as pets get older they start to have health problems—and they’re easy to miss in the early stages.
Dogs don’t whinge, complain or tell you they don’t feel well. Whingeing is a human thing. You whinge because your partner cares about what you have to say. Dogs don’t whinge because no-one likes it. It doesn’t get them anything, so they’ve learned not to do it.
They suffer in silence, so we don’t realise they’re unwell. We don’t realise they’re unwell unless they stop eating, or they’re vomiting, or drinking 10 litres of water. We often miss the subtle signs of ageing.
So, what are those subtle signs?
When your dog turns to drink
Drinking is a huge one. Although it might not seem like a problem at first, increased drinking could indicate various problems common in senior pets such as diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers or Cushing’s disease, which is when your pet’s adrenal glands are working overtime.
We see owners of senior pets who will come in and say, “The dog’s been drinking a lot.” The excessive drinking has been happening for six months and they’ve not thought anything of it. If you notice a change in your pet’s drinking habits, it’s worth seeing your vet as early as possible.
Other signs of illness in senior pets
Other subtle signs include sudden weight gain, a pot-bellied appearance or an enlarged abdomen. These can be signs of a growing tumour or kidney disease. If you notice these types of changes, or if you already know your pet has a tumour and it’s grown or changed, talk to your vet.
When senior pets are in pain, you may see other signs like aggression or nipping. That’s their body language saying, “Leave me alone, I’m sore.” This is another sign that something isn’t right, and it’s time to make that vet appointment.
When’s the right time to visit the vet?
Blood testing every six to 12 months as your animal gets older can be really useful to help your vet identify any subtle changes and catch health problems early on.
A lot of people are also investing in pet insurance these days, to help manage the costs that pop up later in life. Pet insurance is fantastic and takes the headache out of making those tough decisions.
Although insurance eases the financial pressure, when the damage is too far gone, it won’t help your pet get better. As a vet, it’s really tough seeing a tumour you could have removed when it was the size of a tennis ball, but that is now impossible because it’s the size of a football. That’s why it’s so important to look out for those early signs of pain or illness, especially in senior pets—so when your best friend isn’t well, they have the best possible chance of getting better.
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