Is your pet at risk of heartworm?

In many countries across the world, the word “heartworm” is enough to make vets and pet owners shudder. This potentially fatal parasite has infected pets all over the world. While mosquitoes don’t carry infections in the UK, that doesn’t mean our pets are off the hook from heartworm. With the numbers of people and their pets travelling internationally picking up since Covid AND significantly increased numbers of pet adoption outside the UK, our pets are all but safe from heartworm infection. So if you’re travelling abroad with your pet or have adopted them from a warm climate, keep an eye out for Heartworm. 

What is heartworm?

Heartworm is the general term used to describe infection with the parasitic worm Dirofilaria immitis. This worm makes its home within the heart, as well as the blood vessels in the heart and lungs. 

*While heartworm can have a similar end location and clinical signs as lungworm (Angiostrongylus in dogs, Aelurostrongylus in cats), these are different parasites and have differing life cycles. For more on lungworm, check out our lungworm blog!

How do pets get infected with heartworm?

Unlike many of our other common worms, heartworm is NOT TRANSMITTED DIRECTLY from pet to pet via faeces. Heartworm is spread via mosquito bite. A mosquito bites an infected animal and consumes the blood containing intermediate heartworm larvae. The mosquito then moves to take its next blood meal from another pet and transmits the larvae into this animal’s bloodstream. The larvae mature and travel to the heart/lungs where adult heartworms make themselves at home and begin causing problems.

What are signs my pet might be infected with heartworm?

Signs of heartworm infection can range from mild to severe. It may be as simple as lethargy or decreased appetite. More severe signs can include vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, exercise intolerance, and even collapse. These clinical signs are a result of damage to the heart and vessels from adult heartworms. In cases of advanced untreated infection, pets can die from this dangerous parasite.

Can my vet test my pet for heartworm?

Absolutely! There are a few ways your vet can test for heartworm, all primarily via blood. The simplest version is a test looking for heartworm antigen in the blood. This means the lab is looking for evidence of what heartworm produces that the immune system responds to. If this comes up positive, then another fresh blood sample is submitted looking for microfilariae in the blood. Microfilariae are the immature larval form of heartworm that float freely in the bloodstream. 

Oftentimes, x-rays of the chest are also performed looking for enlargement of the heart and pulmonary blood vessels to help determine how advanced the infection may be. 

Can heartworm be treated?

Heartworm can be treated, but it is a majorly time consuming and costly process. The treatment regimen also comes with risks. Pets that are positive for heartworm are treated with injections of a strong adult worm immiticide deep in the muscles of the back. They must also be placed on steroids to decrease the inflammation that the body will create in response to the major killing off of the worms. In addition, pets are placed on an antibiotic to kill the bacteria Wolbachia, which is released by heartworms into the blood when they die. Lastly, pets are also placed on monthly heartworm preventatives as a part of the treatment protocol. Pets are required to be restricted to a cage or small confined space during treatment, as exerting activity like playing or running may exacerbate release of dead worms that travel into the lungs and block small blood vessels. 

Help! What can I do as a pet owner?

We can’t emphasize enough how important year round consistent parasite prevention is. Prevention is always better than treatment, especially in the case of heartworm. Particularly, if you have adopted a pet from another European country OR if you are traveling internationally with your pets from the UK, it is important to ensure these animals are tested for heartworm and on the appropriate prevention. A negative test is recommended prior to beginning regular prevention.

Fortunately, most of the prescription preventatives/treatments that cover LUNGWORM will also cover HEARTWORM, so if you are using a monthly treatment that gets lungworm it’s likely your pet is also protected against heartworm. That being said, it is important to check the product label to see if the drug is licensed to prevent maturation of Dirofilaria immitis. These preventatives must be given every 4 weeks consistently year round to be effective. Missing one dose in areas endemic for heartworm can result in infection. 

VetBox Top Tip: 

Once again our favorite theme rings true, consistent responsible parasite prevention is essential for healthy pets! 

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

Signs your pet has FAD (Flea Allergy Dermatitis):

We all know that fleas are irritating and unpleasant, and we’ve talked about the number of diseases they can carry. But did you know that your pets can also be allergic to flea saliva? This condition is called flea allergy dermatitis, or FAD for short. Is your pet extra sensitive to fleas? Let’s talk about the key points with pets affected by FAD. 

What is FAD?

Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is a hypersensitivity in pets caused by an overreaction of the immune system to flea saliva. In essence, pets can be “allergic” to flea saliva. Fleas’ favourite places to bite are around the head and base of the tail so cats and dogs may have allergic reactions in these areas causing redness, scabbing, inflammation and hair loss. There is often this characteristic pattern, but pets can be itchy anywhere on the body. Often, the changes are mild and can be resolved with treatment alone. But in some cases, the reaction is more severe. Strict monthly flea prevention is essential to avoid uncomfortable reactions. 

There is another secondary issue caused by FAD. When pets itch, bite and chew the skin, the normal skin barrier which acts as a protectant from the environment is broken. Bacteria and yeast (fungi) that normally live on the skin then have the chance to overgrow, leading to secondary infection. Owners may notice crusting, pustules, discharge, bumps, etc. These infections can also cause further itching and irritation and require additional treatment. 

How to treat FAD:

Pets experiencing these severe skin changes from FAD more than likely require additional treatment from the vet. This may include oral medications like antibiotics, antifungals, antihistamines, anti-inflammatory drugs, and immune system suppressive drugs, as well as topical treatments such as medicated sprays and shampoos. Pets who suffer from FAD may also experience other common allergies including food allergies and environmental allergies (atopic dermatitis), and may require further treatment. While pets tend to do very well with appropriate treatment, it is important to realise that the condition can become chronic if not treated quickly and appropriately. 

Top tips: 

FAD is a severe individual allergic reaction to saliva after a flea bite. These pets can be extremely uncomfortable as a result of the skin irritation secondary to the allergy. Veterinary care to treat the fleas and secondary skin irritation/infections that can arise is typically required. Parasite prevention monthly year round is essential to achieve success and a happy non-itchy pet! 

For more information about persistent flea infestations, check out our blog “Fleas Fleas Fleas – Keep Treating Monthly and Still Seeing Fleas”. In this blog you can find more helpful tips on how to successfully treat your pets, as well as your home. 

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

Why prevention is always best:

We often only seek medical advice or treatment to cure our pets once they have fallen ill. 

But, like with human medicine, prevention is nearly always better than treatment as it saves you time, hassle and money in the long run. Especially when it comes to fleas and ticks as you and your pet can get seriously ill from them. We found that not enough people are choosing to prevent rather than cure so the team here at VetBox sought to change things. 

Read on to find out why parasite prevention is better than parasite treatment!

Why prevention is best:


Fleas are irritating!

Imagine feeling itchy or like something is biting you over and over but you can’t seem to get it to stop. Pets with infestations are uncomfortable and often stressed as well. 

Fleas carry diseases that can make your pet (and you) unwell

Fleas can be the source of diseases like Mycoplasma and Bartonella in cats, and historically were known to be carriers of human diseases like the bubonic plague and typhus (yuck!). Fleas also are known to carry the species of tapeworm Dipylidium, and pets that ingest infected fleas will often develop the GI tapeworm. 

Ticks ALSO carry diseases that can make you and your pet unwell. 

While there is a long list of serious tickbourne illnesses known, one major one in the UK affecting both pets and people is Lyme disease. Lyme disease can cause acute illness in pets and people including fever, lethargy and joint pain. While acute disease can be managed, there are often long term health implications. 

Fleas can be challenging and time consuming to get rid of. 

All pets in the house will need to be treated monthly for at least a few months. You also have to clean the house multiple times to break the flea life cycle. 

Just because you don’t SEE fleas, doesn’t mean they aren’t or haven’t been there. 

Fleas are small and quick. Even just a few adults can cause irritation or spread disease. Females can lay 40 eggs each per day! Eggs can be seen with the naked eye but are even harder to spot. 

Some pets are actually allergic to flea saliva, and prone to a condition called flea allergy dermatitis. 

These pets have a more severe reaction to even just a single flea bite! FAD can cause major redness, hair loss, skin infections, and pain for your pets. While regular flea prevention is important for all pets, for those suffering from FAD it’s a must!

Costs of treatment for flea or tick borne disease can be immense and ongoing.

Flea and tick prevention will always be more cost effective for owners over treating existing disease. 

Owner costs at the vet for severe cases of flea allergy dermatitis can easily reach several hundred pounds per trip, and in more serious cases like cats sick from Mycoplasma or dogs that acquire Lyme disease, treatment costs easily can reach the thousands of pounds range. 

For more information about prevention, you can contact VetBox’s friendly support staff to help!

Zoonosis:

Zoonosis is the term used to describe diseases that can be passed from animals to people. I think in general people are aware that this can happen, but we don’t believe people realize the vast number of zoonoses actually out there. In many circumstances these diseases seem foreign or far away, but the reality is there are several of these that have the potential to be in your back garden, or even your home. The purpose of this is not to overwhelm pet owners, but to make people aware of these potential risks so that we can prevent problems before they arise. 

Let’s start by reviewing some parasites that humans can contract from their pets:

Parasite causes:

Roundworms: 

Roundworms in dogs and cats are one of our most common parasites. These species can however, if introduced to the human GI tract by kisses from your furry family member, can develop and migrate to other organ systems and cause issues. 

Hookworms: 

Similar to their roundworm counterparts, hookworms also don’t mind infecting people. These pesky creatures are known to cause the condition visceral larval migrans (larvae migrate to other organs in the body like the brain or the eye) and cutaneous larval migrans (larvae migrate just under the skin). This can cause serious consequences especially in young children.

Tapeworms:

Most tapeworms tend to be species specific, i.e. they prefer one main host like a dog or a cow. That being said, the flea spread tapeworm Dipylidium can infect humans and mature in the gut. Additionally, immature Taenia spp. tapeworm life stages can be found in raw or undercooked meat, meaning if you or your pet consumes these, risk for tapeworm infection is possible. 

One to note in this category is the species Echinococcus. This nasty tapeworm is the culprit behind hydatid cyst disease. While the dog is it’s preferred host, both humans and sheep can act as intermediate hosts and develop potentially life threatening cysts within the body full of immature tapeworms.

Scabies (mange): 

Dogs and cats can develop infestations with two major types of mites, including Demodex and Sarcoptes. While Demodex spp. Are not contagious, humans may become infected by Sarcoptes mites, leading to itching and severe skin irritation. 

Bacterial causes:

Lyme disease: 

This is most commonly recognized as a tick borne disease, however the symptoms are caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. Borrelia can cause severe clinical signs in ourselves and our pets. 

Bartonella:

Cat scratch fever is actually caused by a bacteria. This can cause infected cats to develop fever and other signs, and can be transmitted to humans via cat scratch.

Salmonella, E. coli, and Campylobacter:

These are all bacteria that are not only a potential risk of causing GI problems if they infect humans/pets consuming raw or undercooked meats, but they can also be spread via the feces of pet bird species (including chickens).

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: 

Similar to lyme disease, RMSF is also spread by ticks and is caused by the bacteria Rickettsia rickettsii. This can cause rash, fever, headache, lethargy, etc. and can be serious. While uncommon in the UK, travellers coming back from Europe should be aware of ticks abroad.

Leptospirosis species

Leptospirosis spp. are a group of bacteria that are spread via the urine of affected animals, including dogs. If urine of an infected animal gets into the mucus membranes of another (eyes, mouth, nose) then clinical disease may occur. Signs of leptospirosis infection in dogs are typically general including lethargy, vomiting, fever, increased drinking or urination, and decreased appetite. Elevations in kidney or liver values on bloodwork are a concern as these organs are the target. Leptospirosis is currently uncommon in the UK, but is being diagnosed and is a disease you don’t want to get to know. *See later note on vaccinations in dogs*

Coxiella burnetii

The causative agent of Q fever, Coxiella is shed in urine, feces, milk, and birth fluid of ruminants (sheep primarily) and can then be spread to humans to cause a range of signs including fever, cough, vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy. 

Fungal causes:

Ringworm: 

Dermatophytosis, better known as ringworm, is a fungal infection of the top layers of the skin. Canine and feline dermatophytosis is extremely common, especially in shelter/rescue scenarios because of large animals in close proximity. Puppies and kittens are often the source in humans soon after adoption. Ringworm can be spread between animals and to humans via direct contact or by contaminated surfaces. 

Protozoal causes: 

Giardia spp.

While most species of this protozoal organism tend to be species specific in terms of who they like to infect, it’s important to keep in mind that people can technically still become infected with Giardia from their pet. Giardia is a faecal “parasite” that comes from the faeces of another infected animal. More commonly people and pets become infected from the same contaminated water source containing faecal material while out hiking or camping. This is a common cause of vomiting and diarrhea in pets.

Toxoplasma gondii:

Many people have heard of Toxoplasma but don’t realize it. This is the organism that causes people to warn pregnant women to not scoop the litter box. Toxoplasma is transferred via cat faeces. Cats may show clinical signs of illness including neurologic problems, but they can also pass oocysts asymptomatically. If this parasite makes its way into humans, problems with the fetus in pregnant women may arise. A good excuse to make your non-pregnant partner scoop the box! 

While this list is nowhere near exhaustive, (think many, many more), it does list some of the more common diseases we see, especially those parasites that like to infest our companion animals. This reminds us why regular targeted parasite prevention is extremely important. It helps keep not only our pets safe, but ourselves and our families healthy too. Checking with a vet to ensure your pet is appropriately vaccinated is equally essential, particularly in the case of leptospirosis. Vaccination will not prevent exposure, but it will lessen the likelihood of developing severe disease as well as hopefully decrease the amount of bacteria shed. Not all zoonotic diseases can be kept at bay with parasite prevention or vaccination, which is why education and good personal hygiene associated (hand washing) with animal handling is a must.

What next: 

Making sure your pet is appropriately wormed and vaccinated for your/their lifestyle and location is an ESSENTIAL part of keeping our community healthy; pet and owners alike! 

For more information on significant parasites and zoonotic diseases, check out the following resources: 

European Scientific Council for Companion Animal Parasites

https://www.esccap.org/national-associations/UK+and+Ireland/11/

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control 

https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/zoonoses

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS

The scoop on Ringworm

There are more than a few organisms out there that can be passed from pets to people. One we often forget is the fungi better known as “ringworm”. Also referred to as dermatophytosis, ringworm can be spread from animals to people in addition to person-person and animal-animal transmission. On today’s blog we’re going to go over the most important things pet owners should know about ringworm.

What exactly is ringworm?

Even though it’s most widely known as a “worm”, ringworm is actually caused by infection with a fungus. 

Ringworm in pets is caused by one of two species; Microsporum canis or Trichophyton mentagrophytes. Both of these are zoonotic which means they can also infect humans. 

How do pets get ringworm?

Ringworm may be spread in several ways, but most commonly is by direct contact with an infected animal or infection from contamination in the environment. 

Ringworm is a major environmental concern, as the fungus can remain viable on fomites (inanimate objects that carry an organism) such as kennels, blankets, toys, etc. for several months. 

Ringworm is more common in young and immunocompromised animals, particularly those coming from high volume animal situations such as shelters, rescues, etc. These areas are more high risk because animals are housed close together and in confined spaces. This is why ringworm is particularly common in kittens, as young litters are often kept together in the same confined space.

What does ringworm look like in pets? In people?

Typically pets will experience areas of hair loss with scaling/crusting. It may or may not also be red at the site. Sometimes lesions are so mild hardly any changes are noticeable.

Pets with ringworm may or may not be pruritic (itchy). 

While ringworm can be seen anywhere, the most common locations where lesions are seen include the head/face and limbs/feet.

People often get the more classic “ring like” lesion on their skin, but it may be as simple as a red circular areas. The lesions are also typically itchy, but do not have to be.

Can it be treated? 

Ringworm can absolutely be treated, though it takes diligence on everyone’s part. Lesions on animals may be treatable with topical therapy alone including antifungal ointments and/or medicated fungal bathes. These are safe and effective, but can be challenging to do for cats. Oral antifungals may also be used for more severe cases. 

Treatment often needs to be continued for several weeks.

  • Treating the environment is just as important. 
      • Ideally infected pets should be quarantined for the first few weeks of treatment to an easily cleanable area such as a bathroom/laundry room. This will localize any shedding of fungal spores. These rooms also have surfaces that are easily bleached. Ringworm in the environment is very susceptible to bleach based cleaners.
      • Clean any areas possible with an appropriately diluted bleach based cleaner.
      • Vacuum carpeted areas. 
      • Wash any common bedding/blankets that your pet has come in contact with in hot water.
      • Wearing long sleeves and gloves when handling your pet, as well as good hand hygiene are also essential to decreasing chances of becoming infected yourself. 

Can it be prevented?

Avoiding exposure all together is unlikely, so good hygiene and environmental management is key in these cases. While this also falls on breeders, rescues, etc., it is important for pet owners and new adopters to be on the lookout for signs of ringworm. 

Healthy adults are at low risk of infection, unless spores have access to an open scratch/wound. Those at higher risk include the elderly, children, and immunocompromised individuals.

What should I do if I think I have it?

If you believe you have ringworm, please do not ask your vet for treatment. Contact your doctor at your local GP surgery to schedule a consultation or to get recommendations. 

Lungworm

It’s no secret there’s a new kid in town, and that’s Angiostrongylus vasorum, better known as lungworm. In all reality lungworm isn’t a new parasite to the community and its prevalence has potentially been exaggerated by pharmaceutical companies. That being said, this parasite can be dangerous and potentially fatal to your pet, so let’s take a quick look at what pet owners should know about lungworm.

The lowdown on lungworm:

Lungworm is a parasite that is found in both dogs and cats. They are species-specific. This means that dog lungworms (Angiostrongylus vasorum) infect dogs and cat lungworms (Aelurostrongylus abstrusus) infect cats. These worms are not spread directly pet to pet, but instead through intermediate hosts. Just think of the intermediate host as the middle man. The intermediate host needed for completing the lungworm life cycle is a slug or snail. Your pet may consume a slug/snail (or even just their slime), swallows the lungworm larvae into the intestinal tract, where they develop and migrate through the body. The end target location are the blood vessels in the lungs (+/- heart). Here adults develop and make more larvae, which are coughed up, swallowed, and returned to the gut to come out in the stools. New slugs/snails consume larvae and the cycle starts again. It has been documented that foxes are becoming a major carrier/spreader of lungworm. Foxes become infected the same way dogs do, and then larvae are passed in the faeces to infect more slugs/snails that then can be consumed by our pets. 

Pets at higher risk are those that spend a lot of time outside and like to explore. These pets are more likely to come into contact with slug/snail slime or to consume them directly. It can even be as simple as drinking water or chewing on plants that have small slugs or slime in them! Another common culprit are toys or bowls that live outside and have touched an infected slug or snail. Cases of lungworm in the UK have been documented in higher numbers in the south, though it is anticipated cases in northern England, Scotland and Ireland will continue to rise. 

Check for signs:

Signs your pet is infected with lungworm can be variable. It may be as general as weight loss, vomiting, and decreased appetite. This can progress to coughing and even bleeding abnormalities. Your vet can do a few tests to diagnose lungworm. These include a special faecal test called a Baerman funnel, a blood test called an ELISA, x-rays of the lungs looking for damage, as well as a scope of the airways to collect a sample looking for larvae. Treatment is variable depending on how severely your pet is affected. Hospitalisation is needed in some cases, and as mentioned occasional cases can be fatal. 

One of my mantras when it comes to medicine is, PREVENTION is key. Prevention is always better than treatment in lungworm cases. What many pet owners don’t realise is that there is not one wormer that treats all types of worms. This is why it is essential you discuss your pets specific needs/risks with a vet to determine the best parasite preventative for them. Many products out on the market that owners know as “wormer” will treat the most common types such as roundworm or hookworms, but not tapeworms or lungworms.

Tops tips to prevent lungworm in your furry friends…

  1. Assess your pet’s risk with a vet. VetBox subscribers have free access to vet support.
  2. Monitor your pets when outside (try your best to prevent them eating slugs and snails).
  3. Pick up your pets poo and clean outside toys/bowls. 
  4. Be on the lookout for foxes in your area (primarily their faeces in your garden).

Get in touch with the VetBox vet team to discuss your pet’s specific risks.

For up to date expertise on small animal parasites, visit the European Scientific Council on Companion Animal Parasites website at: 

https://www.esccap.org/national-associations/UK+and+Ireland/11/

Why getting a microchip for your pet is best:

In today’s world it’s easy to find lots of fun and creative ways to ensure the world knows they’re yours. Personalised tags with names, phrases, and owner contact information are available far and wide. Collars in colours and patterns range from rainbow to fine leather. While these are encouraged for recognition in case you find yourself separated from your pet, what’s important to remember is the most reliable way to link your pet to you is a MICROCHIP! Here’s why choosing the chip is best:

It won’t get lost:

Once a microchip is inserted, it’s in there for good. Microchips are made to be inserted under the skin using a needle on an application device. The skin heals over the small hole and the microchip remains in the subcutaneous tissue for the life of the animals. These won’t fall off like a collar, and can’t be easily removed.

It’s easy and cost effective:

Microchipping your pets is quick and can be done at the vets in just a few minutes. Registering the chip with your name and contact information is just as simple, and can be done in under five minutes online. Once registered with the company who makes the chip, you can log on and change your information. This is especially useful if you move house or get a new phone number. Microchip accounts also allow you to put in the contact information of your vet! The process is also cost effective. Many chip application and registration fees can be as little as £15, and only have to be paid once during the life of the animal.

It’s reliable: 

All vets and rescues/shelters have a microchip reader that allows them to scan pets that come in for a chip. If your pet gets lost, runs away, or is stolen and is brought to a vet or rescue, the first thing they will do is check for a chip. This then allows for them to contact the microchip company, and in turn for the company to contact you! What’s just as essential is ensuring that the contact information registered on the microchip is up to date. There are many occasions when rescue staff are unable to return a pet to its owner because the contact information on the chip is old or inaccurate. Having your pet microchipped and with up to date information is essential to getting your pet returned to you safely.

It’s the internationally recognised method of animal identification:

Ever wanted to travel out of the country with your pet? Then they will absolutely need to have an active, readable 15 digit microchip in them for identification purposes. These are required, and if not able to be read, your pet may be refused entry or kept in quarantine at your travel destination. This may also apply if your microchip isn’t upto date.

RELATED – How to take care of your pets in hot weather

For these reasons, we strongly encourage people to microchip their pets. It’s a safe, quick, and reliable way to ensure you have the best chance of finding your pet if they ever were to be separated from you or if you ever plan to travel outside the country with them. Be sure to choose the chip! 

Ready to take the stress out of pet healthcare? Start your journey here

Caring for senior pets

Age is just a number, right? With all the advances in veterinary care over the years our pets are living longer healthier lives. That being said, it’s key pet owners are aware that the needs of your pet WILL change with age. Just because your pets are aging however, doesn’t mean they still can’t have a fantastic quality of life. Today’s blog is going to focus on important considerations for senior pet parents to help keep our golden oldies happy!

Regular vet visits are a must.

Pets are great at hiding problems, especially cats. While annual vet visits are important for pets of all ages, senior pets benefit from being seen more frequently. An exam with your vet every 6 months with your vet may be more appropriate for your senior pet. This allows for a good once over and potentially blood/urine testing to check organ function. 

Dietary needs change as pets age. 

Senior pets tend to require nutrients in different quantities than young and adult pets. Check that the food you are feeding is labelled for “senior” life stages or “mature adult”. Some products may also say best over a certain age like “7+”. There are even great diets out there that can support brain health in senior pets, particularly those with cognitive changes (see below). 

Weight management has always been key to good health, but it’s crucial for senior pets. 

Maintaining a healthy weight is essential for pets of all ages, but in our senior pets it’s even more crucial we avoid excess weight. Any weight above your pets “ideal” body condition not only exponentially increases their risks for developing diseases like diabetes or cardiac problems, but also skyrockets the amount of pain and inflammation in their joints. Senior pets are much more likely to suffer from arthritis and chronic pain, with overweight pets experiencing discomfort at a higher level. 

Routine is our friend. 

Senior pets are often more easily stressed by change. New places, people, and schedules are a common source of anxiety. Sticking as best as you can to a daily routine helps decrease anxiety. This can include waking up/going to bed at similar times, feeding at the same time in the same place, and engaging in activity at the same times. 

Decline in mobility and chronic pain are a common obstacle.

Like we mentioned in the weight section, arthritis is an issue in many senior pets. This contributes to a decline in mobility and difficult performing tasks that used to be easy or normal. Even changes as simple as sleeping more, being slower to get up or lay down, or not following you around the house may indicate pain. 

We need to consider joint support much more seriously as patients age, which may mean interventions such as joint support diets, supplements, pain control, weight control, etc. This may also mean changing your home, such as laying down carpets on slippery floors, blocking off stairs, making a ramp/small stairs to get on beds/couches, and ensuring easy access to food/water/litter boxes. 

TIP: Consider low walled non covered litter boxes on each level of your home for senior kitties! They’re much more likely to use them if they are easy to get TO and get IN.

Is your pet ignoring you? It might be a decline in their hearing or vision. 

While I firmly believe my older golden retriever has “selective hearing” (i.e. ignores me when I call him to come inside, but comes running to the kitchen if I open a bag of cheese), your pet ignoring you may actually be a sign that they are losing their hearing or vision. Making adjustments to how we signal our pets can help them adjust to these changes.

  • For pets losing hearing, start training for visual cues for sit/stay/come. 
  • For pets losing vision, consider soft verbal cues with an associated touch for commands. 
  • Avoid moving furniture if you can for pets with vision loss, as they often memorize the location of things within the home and associate them in relation to surrounding objects and smell.

Changes in behaviour might be more than just “getting old”….it could be cognitive dysfunction. 

Some changes in behavior with age are inevitable, but disorientation, confusion, anxiety, and changes in sleeping patterns may indicate a bigger problem. Check out our blog on canine cognitive dysfunction for more detailed information about this neurobehavioral disorder, and the importance of discussing it with your vet. 

Regular, short, low impact activity is encouraged!

Older pets may have the inclination to not participate in activity as whole heartedly as they used to. This may simply be due to normal changes like increased sleep needs and lower energy level, but also can be related to chronic pain. Keeping our senior pets moving in a safe and low impact manner is strongly encouraged. This helps promote a healthy weight, happy joints, and provides mental stimulation. Short walks are an easy free way to keep your pet moving, but also things like hydrotherapy (water therapy) or chiropractic work with a vet can make a major difference in comfort level. 

Vaccinations and parasite prevention are STILL important.  

Just because your pet is older, doesn’t mean they aren’t targets of infectious disease and parasites. Their risk level for certain types of these may differ based on lifestyle, however age alone does not prohibit pets from picking up things like viruses or worms. Vets regularly see adult and senior dogs positive for intestinal parasites that are not receiving regular preventatives. Senior pets still require protection, and the needs of your pet should be discussed with your vet. 

Love them a little (or a lot) extra.

Even though our senior pets might not be quite as active or rambunctious as they used to be, they’re still our babies. They still rely on us to provide for them, and cherish our days together more so than ever. I encourage people to remember to give their senior pet a little extra love every day, and remember how many wonderful times you’ve shared!

Dr. Kirsten Ronngren, DVM MRCVS