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Looking after your Elderly Pet
by Dr. Francesca Matthews
Elderly pets are becoming more common as pet health care and diets improve. In the 21st century we also value our individual pets more. This means to us they are becoming a more important part of our families and we are prepared to spend more to maximise their life with us.
With an elderly pet comes special considerations.
Their diet should be reviewed to ensure it meets their needs. Senior formulation diets contain modifications required by older pets such as assisting with healthy joints and dental care. Over and above senior diets there are specialised diets formulated specifically to help in the management of joint disease, kidney disease, liver disease ... you name it, there is probably a diet to cater for it. These specialised diets are obtained from your veterinarian following consultation and diagnosis of specific conditions.
More regular health checks or wellness checks
They need to have checks with increased regularity at the veterinary clinic. Once a pet reaches its senior years 6 monthly health checks are strongly recommended. This maximises the opportunity to pick up problems that benefit from early intervention to maximise outcome.
You may need to modify your pet's exercise regime. Rather than 1 long walk a day, an older dog may find 2 shorter walks work better. If they are suffering from arthritic changes, this may further modify the requirements. It is important however that your pet still gets an opportunity to exercise. Gentle exercise will actually help sore joints and your elderly pets still need to exercise their brains. You need to work out what works best for your pet.
As a pet reaches it senior years and slows down, it is important to reduce the calorie intake to ensure that obesity doesn't occur. Obesity at any age is a significant problem, however the problems can be magnified in older pets.
Dignity in the senior years
As your pet ages, it is important not to forget about them. They have given you so much joy and love through their younger years and now that they are slowing down they need you even more.
Seek professional help rather than ignoring the smell coming from their mouths. Dental disease is painful for your pet and not only when they are eating. The increased bacterial load can have detrimental effects on other organs too. With the benefit of pre-anaesthetic blood testing, modern anaesthetics and fluid therapy, the risk to your older pet of undergoing the anaesthetic can be significantly reduced and the benefits can be profound.
Get the increased stiffness looked at. It is not just something you pet has to put up with in old age. There are many modern diets and medications that can be used to help give your pet a new lease on life. True they won't cure the problem, but they will make noticeable differences.
That cough during exercise, coughing when sleeping or slightly wet sounding breathing can all be indications of heart disease. Again this can be successfully managed to increase your pet's quality of life.
Excessive appetite in cats
Those old cats that start eating excessively and losing weight. A simple blood test can show up a condition with these cats called hyperthyroidism, which is highly treatable. Without treatment, their blood pressure will get so high that their retinas will detach, causing blindness and they will go into heart failure.
Then there are those other old cats that drink heaps and urinate heaps. It's usually put down to kidney failure and often that is exactly what it is. That doesn't mean your cat should be left untreated. They get that feeling of wanting to drink the whole time, suffer from reduced oxygenation to the tissues due to anaemia, and mouth ulceration due to the increased urea in the blood stream. It is true that we can't cure these cats but modern day diets and medications are now available that can significantly extend your cat's comfortable life. The earlier these are started, the better the response.
New lumps and bumps.
Get these checked sooner rather than later. If they need removing, the smaller they are, the easier it is to get successful resection and if they are nasty lumps, the greater the chance they haven't yet spread.
Take home message
Your elderly pet needs additional care in its senior years. Although many of the diseases can't be cured, they can be successfully managed. It is not acceptable to just say its old age and leave it. Put yourself in their paws. It is your responsibility to make them as comfortable as possible. Contact us to arrange a senior pet check