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When it comes to healthy aging in pets, functional age — how young an animal acts, feels and performs — is actually more important than chronological age, or how long your dog or cat has been around.
According to Dr. Heidi Lobprise, DVM, president of the International Veterinarian Senior Care Society, functional health is especially relevant when you're discussing the process of aging in animals, since age-related health is relative to a pet's size, breed and weight.
We asked Dr. Lobprise to discuss the three key things that owners may not realize about staying on top of their senior pet's health.
Fact: According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), only about 14 percent of senior animals undergo regular health screenings as recommended by their veterinarians.
Why, you ask?
A review of senior care by the AAHA attributed such low compliance to a lack of clear communication from veterinary teams, which is why it's important for owners to ask questions, especially when it comes to inquiring about special screenings that individual senior pets may need.
"He's old, poor guy!" It's a common refrain that Dr. Lobprise hears when owners refer to their lethargic senior cats or dogs, but lethargy can often be a sign of a treatable condition.
“We know from human health that poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle can accelerate aging — an unhealthy diet and lifestyle can speed aging in animals too," says Dr. Lobprise. "It’s great to see a dog [suddenly] energized after he's been treated for diabetes or a mouth infection. And owners are often pleasantly surprised to see that once lethargic pet run around like a puppy again.”
Since owners often don't notice a gradual decline in their pet's health, notes Dr. Lobprise, this is why regular checkups are so crucial for senior pets. Otherwise, it can be hard to get an accurate picture of your pet’s current state of health, without being able to compare it to prior health.
The idea behind preventive care is to get a veterinarian involved before the onset of serious disease. Wellness programs that focus on things like heartworm prevention and keeping mouths healthy can make a big difference when it comes to quality of life in senior pets.
And it’s vital to start that care early in life, well before a pet hits his senior years.
The American Animal Hospital Association Guidelines recommends a senior wellness screening for all pets during middle age, and retesting is recommended at least once a year. Routine veterinary visits are recommended for senior pets — those in the last 25 percent of their predicted life span — every six months.
In the long run, regular vet visits and preventive care can help your senior pet live a longer, not to mention healthier, life.
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