We are fortunate these days to see our pets living longer and longer, allowing us sometimes nearly two decades to spend with our furry buddies. Over that time span, especially as our pets edge into 'geriatric' life, we begin to perceive changes in our loved ones. You may recall your puppy terrorizing the house, playing endless games of fetch, and greeting you with wondrous (if annoying) exuberance; now she has difficulty rising, may not even hear or wake up when you arrive, and sometimes forgets where to potty. Or you may remember a devilishly handsome Tom cat who ruled your household without challenge, now with a scruffy coat and sagging skin, and an insatiable thirst for water. It is our responsibility to treat these old friends with dignity, to care for them regardless of how burdensome they are becoming. Preventive medicine can be key for these guys. That horrific breath may be indicative of severe dental disease, which causes chronic pain, inflammation, and infection. Happy owners often report after a dental cleaning and tooth extractions that their pets are acting younger and eating better than ever. Dentals can be performed under anesthesia even in geriatric pets, although they can be at higher anesthetic risk. Prior to anesthesia, blood work and X-rays of the heart and lungs are recommended to assess these risks, to be prepared for systemic conditions, and to tailor anesthetic protocol to your individual pet. On the subject of blood work, as our pets age screening blood work every year is recommended. Diabetes in cats, for instance, can actually be reversible, especially when caught and managed early in the disease. Chronic kidney disease and kidney failure is unfortunately common in our older pets, but can be managed early on with such simple changes as special foods. Weight loss, increased thirst or urination, and decreased energy are not necessarily 'just old age;' there may be conditions that can be managed, increasing comfort and prolonging quality life. If your pet is acting confused or forgetful, there are medications and even special foods and supplements that can help slow progression of cognitive dysfunction. Pets that are slow to rise and stiff would benefit from arthritis management – this includes pain medication as well as supplements and, again, special foods.
Ideally, your geriatric pet should be evaluated every six months, or more frequently if you have concerns. Pets age quickly (unfortunately), and therefore large changes can happen in the matter of a few months. A good physical examination can help detect abnormalities such as tumors or heart murmurs, and weight changes can be caught and worked up early. Please call any time to set up a wellness check on your geriatric pet, and to discuss any concerns you may have. Our goal is not to make our old friends live forever, but to make them as comfortable and happy as we can during those golden years.