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Caring for Aging Pets

Dr. Todd Hurst Provides Insight into Keeping Older Pets in Good Health

As owner of Harpeth Valley Animal Hospital for nearly 20 years, Dr. Todd Hurst has cared for cats and dogs of all ages.

“Oddly enough, music was a pretty big factor in choosing Nashville,” he recalls of moving to Middle Tennessee to pursue his veterinary career. “My best friend and I formed a band and played gigs around town for years. Nashville, where even your veterinarian is a guitar player,” he jokes.

While he loves puppies and kittens, he knows that aging pets need extra care to stay in the best health possible.

“Health issues can change pretty quickly in small animals and we can frequently catch things early,” he says. “We can pick up on things like diabetes, kidney issues, thyroid disease, and a host of other problems. If caught early, a lot of these problems can be dealt with before they become severe.” In addition to more frequent veterinary visits, keeping up with routine lab work is crucial as pets age. He recommends annual lab work starting at four years old and advises bringing dogs and cats in for checkups twice a year after age eight. 

Catching some of these issues early allows for the best treatment plans possible. “The most common problem that we see with aging is osteoarthritis,” he shares. “It frequently comes on slowly until it's recognized as a real issue.” Therapy options include anti-inflammatories, joint supplements, and pain medications, as well as the new approach of monoclonal antibody injections.

Likewise, it’s important to be diligent with your pet’s oral hygiene as it is linked to their overall health. “Dental disease in our patients is frequently called the ‘silent pain’ because bad teeth really hurt, but dogs and cats can be very stoic and will not stop eating,” he explains. “Severe dental diseases can also contribute to problems with other bodily systems like the heart and kidneys so stay up on your dental care.”

He advises monitoring any changes in their behavior especially when it comes to eating, drinking, or if they avoid or eliminate anything. In addition to rapid weight loss or excessive drinking and urination, if your dog or cat starts to exhibit “… signs like heavy breathing or persistent coughing, trouble urinating or defecating, neurologic problems like circling or seizures and sudden weakness or paralysis, those issues need to be addressed immediately,” he says.

In addition to watching for symptoms, making sure your pets are eating right is one of the best ways to get ahead of ailments. He recommends switching to a senior diet around age seven or eight. “Those are frequently lower calorie, higher fiber [diets] and many have supplements like fish oils and joint care that can help with aging problems,” he explains. “We also now have access to an array of prescription diets for specific conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease, and thyroid issues. These diets are an essential part of our care and can be life changing for the patient.”

  • Dr. Todd Hurst and his Boston Terriers
  • ???, Dr. Calvin Forester and Dr. Todd Hurst

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