I always have to chuckle when a client comes into the veterinary clinic and seems amazed that their 13 year old cat (or dog) all of a sudden is not doing well. Of course their pet has been so healthy that they haven’t needed to come to the veterinarians for several years!
These situations make me think of my father (who is entering his senior years). Every time I talk to him he keeps me up to date on his health, doctor appointments, miscellaneous screenings and so on. Not because he is unhealthy, in fact he is one of the healthiest people I know; but instead to keep on top of his health in order to catch any minor changes before they become major issues.
I try to relate this to the clients who enter the exam room in puzzlement. Pets can have age related changes and diseases just like us humans. In fact for each human year a pet ages approximately 7 years. Unfortunately, in most cases we have missed the preventative time frame. Clients tend to forego “wellness” checks on their pets when they are “healthy”.
When caring for your senior pet:
- Make sure you keep your annual or bi-annual appointments (yes, even if they are “fine”). Most minor changes in a pet’s health can be found on a physical exam. Such as: weight loss, hair coat changes, lumps and bumps, muscle wasting, signs of anemia, and so on. A physical exam is the most non-invasive procedure that gives the veterinarian a lot of information.
- Discuss even the small changes you see in your pet. For instance: water intake, urine output and frequency, change in sleeping habits, change is attitude and activity, etc.
- Consider agreeing to perform senior screening (typically blood work and radiographs) on your pet. This can be very helpful to catching early minor problems before they become major issues. Most senior screening blood work will check all of your pet’s organ functions (i.e. kidney, liver, gall bladder, pancreas, etc.), thyroid function, and a complete blood count (red blood cells, white blood cells, etc.). Pets (especially cats) are masters of disguise, most times when you start noticing symptoms, a disease process tends to have a progressed beyond being a minor problem.
- Most elderly pets have some extent of arthritis. Keep their weight under check; extra pounds can cause more destruction to their joints. Make their access to the yard or litter box easy (for instance don’t make your cat climb 2 flights of stairs, if they are painful and can’t make it you will likely invite unwanted potty habits).
- Feed a senior formula. Most pet foods make food for senior pets that is specially formulated for their senior needs.
- Be honest with your veterinarian. Most veterinarians understand if your time or financial situation doesn’t lend to the sometimes excessive care required by senior pets. Being honest will help you and your veterinarian determine what is best for your pet.