Take a break

As we embark on a new year and new decade I am hopeful that we can change the old viewpoint that age is a disease. Instead, let’s make a resolution for our senior pets to provide them with the best comfort and care as they age. After all, age is nothing but a number and mindset!

One of the most common things I hear during senior pet exams is that their discomfort with moving is normal because they are getting older. Getting older does not have to mean that our pets can’t move well and that they are uncomfortable. While it is true that osteoarthritis will occur as we age, there are many things we can do to holistically support the body through this process.

Like in humans, weight and body condition score play a huge factor in our pet’s movement and comfort level.

Maintaining an ideal body condition throughout your pet’s life can be beneficial in delaying the onset of osteoarthritis. There are also many supplements that are also beneficial, namely veterinary recommended and tested joint supplements, as well as, omega fatty acids. Combinations of these supplements can support the cartilage surface, joint capsule, and joint fluid.

The use of supplements should be discussed with your veterinarian so that it can be tailored to your pet’s specific needs. If your pet remains uncomfortable or their osteoarthritis is progressive, there are medications that can be prescribed by your veterinarian to provide pain and inflammatory relief.

As our pets age their bones and joints are not the only parts of their body that are affected.

Senior patients also experience changes metabolically and systemically. For example, senior cats (more than 9 years of age) are much more likely to be affected by kidney insufficiency, hyperthyroidism, diabetes mellitus and urinary tract infections. Senior dogs (more than 8 years of age) are more likely to be affected by hypothyroidism, liver insufficiency and other endocrine disorders.

Systemic diseases can be detected early, before more advanced clinical signs emerge, by performing routine bloodwork. Depending on the age of your pet, their clinical status and their overall health your veterinarian may recommend bloodwork to be performed annually, every 6 months or even every 3 months for more advanced conditions.

When systemic diseases are caught early many of them can be managed by diet changes or medications. Catching diseases early can even slow their progression! Annual bloodwork also enables your veterinarian to tailor medications to what is ideal for your pet’s body.

There are other changes that can affect our senior patients where we are not able to add medications, supplements or diet. But we can make adjustments in our homes to provide support.

When our seniors lose their hearing it is important to re-evaluate how we are managing their walks, time outside, etc. so that we can make sure they are safe. If our pets are losing their eyesight, we can make sure not to make changes to the layout of the house so that they are better able to navigate it. Even nightlights can go a long way to helping our pet’s with vision loss.

Lastly, and one of the most disheartening for owners to witness is their pet’s decline in cognitive function. With our patients better able to live longer, we are now seeing them experiencing clinical symptoms similar to human dementia or senility.

Environmental and behavioral enrichment can be even more vital for our aging pets than our younger ones. The sharper we can keep their mind, the better we can delay the onset of these symptoms. These symptoms can look like nighttime waking, inappropriate urination or defecation, abnormal barking or yowling, getting lost in the house, not recognizing family members or even staring.

I strongly urge that if you have an aging pet please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a senior exam.

I deeply believe that we owe it to our pets to provide them with the best care as they age. After all, they have gifted us with so many years of companionship and love.

Danielle Carey, DVM, is an associate veterinarian who practices mixed-animal veterinary medicine at the Animal Clinic of Walla Walla. Contact her at 509-525-6111.