People everyday are getting a new puppy, kitten, or other pet to join their family. And yes, most of the time these new additions are just in their first few months of a long life. For a few of these pets, we as veterinarians will see them for their initial vaccines, adoption exams, maybe a spay or neuter surgery. Some of them will make annual visits for a check up while others we may not see for several years once they are much older or only if they are sick. It’s these senior pets that we often can make the most difference in their quality of life.
I cannot stress enough the importance of an annual examination, or in the case of pets with chronic illnesses every 6 months. This should start from the time they are young adult animals until their final days. Early detection of a condition can save lives and keep pets healthier for longer. Who wouldn’t want their furry kid to have a happy life for as long as possible? That’s the first step you can do to help your pets with the aid of your veterinarian. Yet, there are somethings you can do yourself or that you should pay special attention to help them out in their golden years.
Mobility issues can be quite difficult to overcome but can make a significant improvement in how a pet feels. Signs can be obvious from a noticeable limp to more subtle signs such as dragging a foot, difficulty with stairs, or a decreased appetite. While some patients will benefit from supportive medications, the most important thing you can do is to keep them at a healthy weight! If you have slippery floors, you should look at adding some area rugs or another idea is a product called Dr. Buzby’s Toe Grips. These grips fit onto the nails on your dog and help them in getting traction so they can walk around better. Another quick tip: If you’ve got stairs, consider a ramp.
Lumps and bumps are often seen as a part of growing old. Sometimes these lumps can be benign but that means there’s also a potential chance for them to be malignant. The tendency for many people tends to be watching the lump to see if it changes in size, color, temperature, or texture. The problem is when those lumps grow in areas such as the legs which make it difficult to remove them entirely or not without a higher risk of complications. Another risk if is the pet chews on the lumps or if they burst. Let’s be honest for a moment…when someone tells me the lump wasn’t there yesterday, that can only be the truth less than 20% of the time. So as my colleague Dr. Sue Cancer Vet says, “Why wait? Aspirate!” Basically, if a lump is there for more than a month and is larger than a pea, you should get it checked out before it’s too late.
Much like people, senior pets can show signs changes in their behavior similar to Alzheimers disease in people. In cats & dogs, we call this cognitive dysfunction. There are no definitively effective treatments unfortunately but there are some things that can help. In particular, some specialty prescription diets can help protect the brain from free radicals which can lead to oxidation of cells in the brain. Hence, the idea of antioxidants can help to reduce this damage by blocking the reactions. Something else to consider would be to go against the adage of “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and work/play with them to give their brains something to be challenged by. Studies show that for people doing activities like crossword puzzles that encourage thought processes can delay or help fight the onset these changes so maybe there’s some hope that it could work for pets too. Some ideas to work on are scent or food detection (think the object is under one of three bowls sleight of hand trick) or even reinforcing previously learned behaviors or tricks.
Other changes that you might notice might be with their eyes. Some eye conditions may affect vision but could possibly be painful as well. For some breeds such as brachycephalics (pugs, pekingese, shih tzus), they will often develop a condition called dry eye which while not necessarily painful, can be uncomfortable and cause a pigmentation of the cornea. If they are going blind, just don’t rearrange the furniture. Moving to the back end of the pet, incontinence is often over-represented as a presenting complaint when pets arrive at the clinic. Yes, they may be leaking urine but in reality, the odds of a urinary tract infection, kidney disease, or diabetes creating urine overflow are much more likely.
Your pets aren’t “just getting old.” While they are aging, they are living longer than they did 20 years ago and that means we’ll see more health problems. There are many facets to the care of your senior pet. You are their biggest advocate and need to be the watchdog over their health. By noticing subtle changes and having them addressed as soon as possible, you can keep things from getting worse and making treatment less difficult & more promising. A general rule of thumb is a check up every 6-12 months. Senior pets are just like our older relatives, treasured companions that are still full of love; so be sure to take care of them!
Disclaimer: All blog posts may contain opinions which are my own and may not reflect those of any current or former employers.
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