Caring for Your Senior Cats and Dogs

Caring for Your Senior Cats and Dogs

 By Mark Hale, DVM

Bolivar, MO

 

            None of us likes to think of the inevitable aging process, either for ourselves, or for our beloved pets. We consider our animal companions "forever young". Their youthful antics- a terrier chasing a squirrel in the yard, or your calico chasing a moth halfway up the curtains- give a false sense that they will never grow old (or sometimes even grow up). These crazy playful actions are one of the qualities that make us enjoy them so much.

            Dogs and cats in the US are living longer, happier, and healthier lives than ever before. However, animals do age more rapidly than people. We have the opportunity to witness, and affect, the entire spectrum of their lives from beginning to end. Older pets have different needs than younger pets, so it is important to understand those differences. If we can anticipate changes in our pets' bodies as they age, their geriatric years give us an opportunity to make a huge positive impact on their quality of life. This can be a chance to return the favor of the love and support that our pets give us.

            One of the biggest fallacies about aging pets is that their physical ailments are inevitable and untreatable. The fact is improvements in veterinary science make it possible for your pets' veterinarian to help them weather some of the most common old-age diseases and ailments without pain, discomfort, or decrease in activity.

            As a veterinarian, I've often faced this situation with my clients. They bring in their aging pets, resigned to their beloved cat or dog living with a limp, lack of energy, or appetite loss forever. One such pet was Tiger, a 12 year old gray tabby, whose owners brought her in for losing weight, crying as if in pain, and vomiting. As often is the case, her owners thought these symptoms were due to "old age" and untreatable. After examination and routine blood screenings, it was found that Tiger had hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid gland. This relatively common disease of older cats is treatable and Tiger's response has been terrific. Finding the problem early by testing also has helped reverse the secondary heart and kidney diseases that were starting to occur due to the thyroid disease. Now Tiger is energetic, "pleasantly plump", and enjoying life again.

            The moral of Tiger's story, and those of many pets like her, is that our pets don't just "get old". They age with specific symptoms and conditions that are common in older animals. As dogs and cats age, they become more likely candidates for those old-age illnesses, but they also become more likely candidates for treatments and medications that can alleviate their symptoms and put the comfort back into their day-to-day lives.

            Some signs of aging, such as a graying muzzle and slowed activity, are easy to identify in your pet. Other signs are more subtle. The signs of most age-related diseases come upon pets gradually. Signs and symptoms that should alert us that something is wrong with our older pet can include:

            -Decreased activity

            -Less interaction with family members

            -Unexplained weight gain or loss

            -Changes in eating or drinking habits

            -Increased urination

            -Limping or reluctance to jump like before