It is no secret that the lifespan of domestic animals is increasing. Cats, dogs, exotic pets, and other animals we share our lives with are receiving more attentive care, and the benefit of various treatments, diets, and increased awareness of their needs. It is a growing area in veterinary medicine, with improved quality and often increased quantity of life, and even palliative care options are improving.
Not so many years ago, many cats and dogs spent the majority of their time outdoors; they were guardians, hunting partners, mousers, and more. Recently, cats have become primarily (if not exclusively) indoor, and dogs are walked, monitored more closely, spend a great amount of time as household “fur kids.” They are family members, part of the home, and often inseparable from their human and/or fellow animals in the home.
Senior and geriatric pet care has improved as dramatically as our pets’ lifespans. Early wellness testing, including urinalysis, bloodwork, thyroid levels and more, are helping detect disease processes even before they are outwardly affecting the pet. It, in turn, allows for simple, early changes in diet and/or lifestyle, to help delay further damage or strain on organ systems.
For example, finding hyperthyroidism (over-active thyroid disease) earlier in cats, before kidney disease, hypertension or other secondary issues have occurred. It allows for more treatment options that offer a cure, as with radioactive iodine therapy possibly. Another example is with arthritis in pets. Early diagnosis of degenerative changes in the joints of the body allows us to begin supplement injections, diets, medications and/or physiotherapy. Most of these happen before the pet has become withdrawn, irritable, or has lost a lot of muscle mass. Kidney disease, liver issues, dental disease and more can be intercepted earlier with regular examinations and wellness testing.
Another area of importance is palliative care. Age, with its wear and tear on an individual’s body systems, is inevitable. Diseases we can manage earlier and with better outcomes still ultimately may cause the decline of an animal’s quality of life. The human-animal bond becomes a pinnacle reason for us to palliatively manage these animals, easing pain, encouraging appetite, decreasing nausea.
There are various levels of palliative care. An elderly fur-child may be arthritic, have mild cognitive changes (senility), or have bathroom habits that are undesirable (inappropriate urination or defecation). There are various pain control options, medications and diets for senility-like symptoms, as well as ways to alter the animal’s environment. Adding trips outside for dogs, or another litter box on a different level of the home for cats, raising food and water bowls off the floor a bit so arthritic pets don’t need to strain their necks, backs and forelegs as much when trying to eat, and more can improve their quality of life.
Although we all realize the inevitable time will come to help our pets leave this world, so many simple things can be done before this, to allow the last months of a pet’s life to be the best they possibly can.
If you have questions or concerns about your senior or geriatric fur kids, please contact us for information and a senior wellness examination.
Written by: Dr. Adrienne Harris-Dain