The dropping temperatures and indoor living that come with winter can bring some extra challenges when your pet is older. Existing conditions such as arthritis can be exacerbated, new health problems can develop and your pets can be exposed to specific dangers only seen in the colder months (antifreeze poisoning, burns from open fires, frostbite and so on.)
London Veterinary Surgeries are passionate about helping your pets live long and healthy lives, and so we’ve compiled a list of things to watch out for in winter when you have an older pet. Generally, cats and small dogs are considered to be senior once they reach the age of seven, whilst large breeds of dogs may start to exhibit signs of aging from six years old and onwards. Older animals tend to experience the same issues we humans do as their bodies age – arthritis, cancer, senility, diabetes and liver and heart disease. So it’s important to have regular check ups more often than just your annual booster. We discuss each of these issues below in more detail.
Arthritis is a painful condition affecting any, and usually multiple, joints. It is most common in older animals as joints become worn and damaged, and the body is less able to repair itself. It is this damage that is responsible for the chronic pain and restricted joint function that could spoil your pet’s quality of life. Just like our friend Sidney who was a bit stiff on his front legs.
On examination one of our vets found that the range of movement in his elbow joints was reduced. X-rays showed deterioration in the cartilage surrounding the joint (osteoarthritis). So Sidney was prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs to offer pain relief. He enjoyed lots of cuddles from our nurse Katie as you can see, and we will continue to monitor his condition which can be managed with the correct medication.
If you are concerned, please bring your pet in for an assessment with the vet so that we can begin managing the condition early if your pet does indeed have arthritis.
The good news is that there are a range of treatments available, giving real improvements and helping to relieve symptoms, thus significantly increasing mobility and quality of life for your pet.
For more information look at our arthritis awareness blog.
Estimates suggest that cancer is responsible for around 1 in 10 of deaths in older animals. Just as in human medicine, our vets keep up to date with the latest in surgical treatments and chemotherapy.
There have been several new developments in chemotherapy for pets recently – please ask any of our vets for details.
Cancer can affect any part of the body, and there is a range of possible symptoms. Common sign to look out for include:
• Abnormal swellings or lumps
• Persistent sores
• Weight loss
• Reduced appetite
• Bleeding or discharge
• Bad breath
• Difficulty in eating or swallowing
• Reluctance to exercise / lethargy
• Lameness or stiffness
• Difficulty in breathing or toileting normally
Of course these signs can also be found with other diseases, and so it’s always sensible to get your pet checked over by a vet if you notice any changes or if you are at all concerned.
Just as in human medicine, we continue to see advances in cancer treatment and in many cases your pet may live comfortably for several years with treatment and/or surgery.
These signs can be caused by another underlying illness so it’s important to have a thorough check up.
Signs to look out for can include:
• Pacing, wandering aimlessly or finding it hard to settle
• Staring blankly
• Failing to recognise familiar sounds or faces
• Seeming lost or confused in the house or garden
• Forgetting to eat or toilet
• Continually seeking attention
• Repeated vocalisation for no obvious reason
We have a range of drugs and dietary management techniques that can help older animals cope successfully with increased cognitive dysfunction, so please do give us a call if you are at all concerned about your pet.
Liver and gall bladder disease
The liver performs a range of vital functions – manufacturing, storing and maintaining a range of crucial proteins, fats and cholesterols to keep your pet’s body working normally. Liver disease is relatively common in older animals, usually due to degenerative changes that can be associated with conditions such as cirrhosis, diabetes and pancreatitis.
Signs of liver disease can include:
• Loss of appetite
• Weight loss
• Diarrhoea and vomiting
• Pale gums
• Abdominal swelling
• Blood in the stools or urine
If your pet is showing any of these signs, we may carry out a range of blood tests and scans in order to make a full diagnosis. If liver disease is found, dietary management will almost certainly be an important element of any recommended treatment and management, and we will advise on the right course of action to suit your pet’s individual circumstances.
Cats and dogs can develop diabetes when the pancreas is no longer able to produce enough insulin to allow the glucose in the blood to enter the body’s cells, or when the body can no longer utilise insulin properly. Symptoms are very similar to those found in humans, including:
• Weight loss, often despite an increased appetite
• Excessive thirst and urination
• Reduced appetite
• Pungent breath, with a ‘chemical’ smell
• Weakness, lethargy
• It is very easy to diagnose often with a simple blood sample and the treatment often produces a dramatic improvement in quality of life.
Regular and closely monitored insulin injections will restore the body’s natural balance and therefore allow your pet’s internal systems to function more normally. Diabetic pets will require their insulin levels to be closely monitored, and most go on to do very well. If you are at all concerned that your pet may be showing any of the signs of diabetes, then please book an appointment with your vet so that we can measure his or her insulin levels and begin treatment if necessary.
As our pets age, their hearts start to show signs of wear – the most common form of heart disease is due to failure of the heart valves, leading to a reduced supply of blood to the body. Large dog breeds can also suffer from stretching of the heart muscle walls; reducing the effectiveness of the contraction and therefore limiting blood flow around the animal’s body.
Common signs of heart disease can include:
• Difficulty breathing
• Reduced tolerance to exercise
• Loss of appetite
The good news is that many pets with heart disease are able to lead relatively normal lives with a combinations of drugs, gentle exercise and dietary changes, although generally treatment will slow down the progression of the disease rather than cure it.
In several of our clinics we have the facilities to perform ultrasound scans of the heart to see the chambers in the heart and provide a more accurate diagnosis.
1. Common winter chemicals, such as ice-melting salts, windscreen wiper fluids and antifreeze can be deadly for cats and dogs. Methanol and ethylene glycol, the toxic ingredients in windshield wiper fluid and antifreeze, are dangerous to pets; ethylene glycol can cause permanent kidney damage, while ingestion of methanol will usually result in lethargy, vomiting and seizures. Your pet may be attracted to the sweet smell and taste of antifreeze, and once ingested, the chemical is absorbed rapidly. Dogs may come in from a walk and then lick their paws, which puts them at risk. Symptoms including vomiting and loss of coordination can appear within an hour. If you think your pet has consumed even the smallest amount of antifreeze, bring him or her in to see us immediately.
2. Decrease in temperature. Small breeds of dogs, older animals and pets with thinner coats are all susceptible to frostbite and hyperthermia, and therefore may benefit from additional clothing. You can purchase lightweight insulating jackets, sweaters and boots that will make them feel so much cosier on their lovely winter walks.
Older pets may also feel the cold indoors so keep their favourite blankets to hand. It is important to help maintain a healthy body temperature.
3. Open flames. Keep your pet away from unguarded fireplaces, candles, wood-burning stoves and heaters. The obvious danger is that flames can singe or set fire to a pet’s fur, but they’re also at risk of smoke inhalation. Always keep an eye on your pet when they’re in a room with an open flame.
4. Check your vehicle. Many cats love to hide under car engines or inside bonnets where it’s nice and warm, so do check your vehicle before you set off – look inside, under and around your car. Likewise, do not leave your pet unattended inside the vehicle if you are taking them away with you, or out for the day. Extreme drops in temperature are potentially fatal.
If you are at all concerned about your older pet’s health for any reason during the winter, please do speak to any of our team for advice or information.