Ask the Vet: Senior Pets

UPDATED: Nov 14, 2013

This, fellow pet afficianados, is the third installment of a three-part series on older pets. To bring you up-to-speed: Post # 1 can be found by clicking here, Veterinarian Q&A: Senior Pets; Post #2 is available here: Older Pets: What You Need to Know. And here is the third installment of this fabulous series…

Q: Do elderly pets still require yearly vaccinations?

Pet vaccines are a hot topic among veterinarians right now, and no one has the perfect answer for your dog. Vaccines used to be considered only beneficial and a good reason to go in for a yearly physical, but we know now that there are several potentially harmful conditions that vaccines may contribute to. The one thing that nobody can deny is that vaccines have saved millions of dogs’ lives by preventing diseases such as parvovirus (a serious gastrointestinal infection that unvaccinated puppies are at risk for) and they have also preserved the health of many humans as well, by preventing the transmission of diseases like rabies.

But vaccines can have a dark side as well. Some diseases caused by the immune system, like immune-mediated hemolytic anemia, can be triggered by vaccination.

Older dogs that are not exposed to other dogs (such as at dog shows, boarding facilities or dog parks) may not need vaccines. There are blood tests that your veterinarian can perform that can detect levels of protective antibodies. The best advice is to talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s particular situation and whether vaccines are right for your dog.

Q: Are there any new drugs or therapies that can help an old dog get back some of his spark?

Yes, lack of spark, or hyposparkitosis as we call it in the medical profession, is the scourge of older pets. (Okay, officially no such thing, at least no such medical terminology!)

Since the aging process and arthritis often go hand in hand (or paw in hand, for our furry friends), a whole lineup of potent prescription arthritis medications have come on the market in recent years. Most of these medications fall into the category of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. These are medications that work in a similar fashion to human drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen. These drugs have worked wonders for millions of dogs, when used appropriately, and have helped relieve the pain of arthritis. Many owners report their dogs have renewed vigor and zest for life after being placed on an NSAID. These medications are very potent and, like all medications, can have side effects that range from mild and temporary to serious and even fatal ones.

Of the five or six NSAIDS approved for use in dogs today, none are free of side effects. The best way to make sure that your dog has the lowest risk of serious complications from taking an arthritis medication is to have an open and honest discussion with your veterinarian about what to expect, what could happen and appropriate lab testing. Many drugs will need to be monitored closely through lab tests and will require dose adjustments to be made by your family veterinarian.

Dogs that should not take an NSAID:

  • Dogs with prior kidney, liver or gastrointestinal conditions
  • Dogs taking steroids
  • Older dogs without appropriate lab testing

Additionally, several new medications have recently been added to our lineup of drugs. These include medications for

  • Obesity
  • Pain
  • Diabetes
  • Separation anxiety

Please discuss with your family veterinarian whether any of these medications may be right for your older dog.

Q: Any supplements or vitamins I should add to my pet’s diet as they age?

A good and balanced diet, just as with people, should provide all the nutrition necessary for a healthy and long life. Avoiding the lower grades of pet food and buying a brand recommended by your veterinarian should ensure that your pet is getting the best nutrition possible. Discussing diet with your trusted family veterinarian can help guide you through the maze of available pet foods.

For certain medical conditions, nutritional supplements can be beneficial. Ask your veterinarian to make recommendations based on their knowledge of your pet’s overall health.

Many pets that I treat in clinical practice take over-the-counter joint supplements with glucosamine and chondroitin, like Vetscription Joint-Eze Plus. These supplements may be helpful with degenerative joint diseases like arthritis and are unlikely to cause any negative side effects. Though they have not conclusively been shown through rigorous scientific investigation to prevent or reverse arthritis in dogs (something that veterinarians are trained to look for), many pet owners swear by them as a way to support joint health. Just as with humans, supplements are a matter of personal choice but still debated in scientific circles.

-Photo Credit: From flickr by Joshme17

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