By SARA ARTHURS
Would your furry family member qualify for a senior discount?
Older dogs and cats require special care, different from puppies or kittens, but they also bring their own special joys.
Dr. Kara Schmidt, a veterinarian at Blanchard Valley Veterinary Clinic, said annual veterinary exams are “super, super important” for older pets. This is because their health can change more quickly than that of a younger animal.
One example is arthritis, which is especially an issue among bigger dogs that carry a lot of weight on their joints. (Veterinarians do see arthritis in cats, too, she said.)
Regular checkups means the vet can monitor the animal’s progress, and if needed, get them started on a supplement “to keep their joints happy and healthy,” she said. These supplements help lubricate the joints, although later on down the line — if the animal is limping or having trouble standing — pain medication may be warranted.
Schmidt said some “systemic diseases” like liver and kidney issues are more common among older animals. Regular blood work is important in helping catch these issues sooner, rather than having the animal come in when they are already more sick.
In cats, kidney disease and sometimes diabetes can be issues, Schmidt said. Hyperthyroidism is also an issue in cats, and again, blood work can catch it sooner, before clinical signs start to show.
Older cats may also have grooming issues. If they’re overweight or they don’t feel well, they may not be grooming themselves. And if they’re sick or not eating well, it may affect the health of their fur. Owners will need to take time to brush their pets and help them groom themselves.
And, of course, pets, like people, suffer aches and pains as they get older, so it’s important to keep them as comfortable as possible. Schmidt said pet owners may notice animals having a harder time getting up after lying down, or going up and down stairs. Cats may not be jumping on the furniture or counters as much as before.
Senior diets can support joint health, but Schmidt stressed the importance of the annual appointment and blood work, which is “a good screening tool.” Most of the time it does come back normal, but even then it will offer a starting point to compare if, in a month or two, the animal is brought back in because they’re not feeling well.
Schmidt said owners of senior pets should also make sure the animals are getting their teeth cleaned. A lack of dental care can lead to abscessed teeth, which can cause pain while eating.
Dementia can affect animals, too. Schmidt said. While it’s difficult to diagnose, there can be signs.
“Canine cognitive dysfunction” is a kind of “doggie dementia,” she said. The dog might be up in the middle of the night, whining and restless, or show other abnormal behaviors. Puzzle feeders or food bowls can provide mental stimulation for older animals.
Having an older pet also means you will have to confront end-of-life issues.
Schmidt said these are never easy conversations to have, and people approach this topic differently. Some may even want to seek palliative care for their pet.
She looks at the quality of life and asks, “Are they having more bad days than good?” Or, if the pet is not eating much or at all, or if they used to love playing with toys and now they just lie there, it may indicate the need to have these tough conversations. Some want to do whatever they can to keep their pet alive longer, while others may be more concerned with ending the suffering early.
If you’re newly adopting a senior pet, be aware it may face health issues. And aches and pains can lead to behavior issues because the animal is uncomfortable, Schmidt said.
But newly adopted older animals can fit in nicely with a family.
And, Schmidt said, older pets have their own special rewards. Since they are a little more subdued than kittens or puppies, they make a great buddy for lazily lounging on the couch.
“They’re kind of like your cuddle bugs,” she said.