“Old age is not a disease—it is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses.” —Maggie Kuhn
Perhaps you have noticed your older pet slowing down a little, or having trouble doing the things she enjoys. As she moves into her later life, more frequent medical assessments, attention to comfort measures, and in-home adjustments will be necessary to ensure she enjoys her golden years. The last years of your pet’s life can be as enjoyable as her first, if you are willing to embrace your senior pet and address her unique needs so you can enjoy added time together.
Keeping senior pets healthy
As your pet ages, she is more likely to develop ailments and diseases that interfere with normal body functions. Because a lot can change in a year, we recommend increasing veterinary wellness visits with your pet’s primary veterinarian to twice yearly after seven years of age.
Age is not a disease, although pet owners often attribute disease signs to old age, instead of pursuing diagnostics and treatments to keep their aging pet comfortable and active. Many diseases, such as kidney failure, do not cause obvious clinical signs until organ function has severely deteriorated and few treatment options can help. A senior pet checkup will include diagnostic tests, such as blood work and an ECG, to detect organ failure and diseases in their early stages, when treatment options can slow progression and help your pet enjoy her final years.
Diseases that commonly affect senior pets include:
- Degenerative joint disease, or arthritis
- Heart disease
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
- Cognitive dysfunction, or senility
Controlling pain in senior pets
Much of the slowing down that owners attribute to normal aging is due to a pet’s underlying painful conditions that make normal movements uncomfortable. Your family veterinarian will conduct thorough pain evaluations at your pet’s twice-yearly senior wellness visits to diagnose painful conditions, such as arthritis, that can be treated to improve her quality of life. When appropriate, your veterinarian may refer you to EEVC for alternative treatments that will help to decrease inflammation and pain, including laser therapy and physical rehabilitation. These treatment options can be particularly helpful for pets in organ failure who cannot take many medications. Owners are often pleasantly surprised when their pet returns to an activity level she has not enjoyed for years after her pain is alleviated.
Keeping senior pets comfortable at home
You can make a number of adjustments at home to maintain your pet’s comfort and make normal activities easier, such as:
- Moving food and water bowls to an easily accessible area. If your home has multiple floors, move the bowls to the level where your pet spends the most time so she does not have to tackle the stairs each time she wants a drink.
- Keep litter boxes on each floor of your home to prevent accidents caused by a painful cat’s reluctance to climb the stairs. Replacing litter boxes with low-sided trays can also be helpful, as cats often have trouble climbing into a box with high sides.
- Provide supportive bedding to ease your pet’s stiff, painful joints. Place a thick, comfy bed in each of her normal resting spots to help her sleep more comfortably.
- Pets with ambulatory problems may have trouble navigating slick tile or wood floors, so placemats or rugs in a path so they can access important areas.
If you have noticed your senior pet slowing down or acting painful, or she has not had a check-up for more than six months, schedule an appointment with your family veterinarian. If your primary care veterinarian isn’t available, you can contact us 24/7/365.