Dogs and cats are living longer than ever, but any pet lover will tell you they still age too quickly. Before you know it, your “puppy” is turning grey, and your middle-age cat is considered geriatric. How did that happen? Where did the time go? Can you slow it down? While we may not be able to halt time, the team at Palmer Veterinary Clinic can ensure that no matter the changes that await your aging pet, they’ll be well cared for in every possible way.
Let’s take a closer look at senior pet struggles and how we can help.
Things don’t work like they used to—senior pet health
Age isn’t a reason to make fewer pet visits to Palmer Veterinary Clinic. In fact, we recommend twice-yearly exams for all pets older than 7 years of age. While preventive care (e.g., vaccines, parasite screenings, preventives) is still important, senior care prioritizes disease detection, pain management, and identifying any health changes as early as possible. In-depth examinations and annual blood work improve the chances for early diagnosis, better treatments, and improved outcomes.
I don’t feel like myself anymore—senior pet behavioral change
Abnormal behavior in senior pets can sometimes be the first indication of a medical issue, and may occur without any physical illness signs. Personality changes are not a normal part of the aging process, and should always be assessed by your veterinarian, no matter how small they seem. Common senior pet behavioral changes may include:
- Excessive vocalizing
- Sound sensitivity
- Increased anxiety
- Sudden fear or aggression
- Confusion, and wandering
- Obsessive behavior
- Isolating or becoming overly attached
- Failure to respond to basic commands
In addition to disease processes, behavioral changes can indicate vision or hearing loss, as well as cognitive dysfunction syndrome, an age-related neurological deterioration similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
I can’t hold it anymore—senior pet elimination issues
If your previously house or litter box trained senior pet is now having accidents, they have not had a setback in learning, or acting spitefully. Before changing your pet’s routine, let us evaluate them at Palmer Veterinary Clinic to look for medical causes, such as incontinence, urinary tract infection, loss of sphincter tone, arthritis pain, cognitive dysfunction syndrome, or weakness. While some conditions cannot be cured, they may be managed with medication and lifestyle adjustments, including:
- More frequent trips outside
- Lowering litter box height so your cat can step in and out
- Placing potty pads near frequently soiled areas
- Having your pet wear a belly band or diaper that you check and change frequently, to prevent infection and skin irritation.
Is that you? Senior pet vision loss
Although sight isn’t their primary sense, blindness or vision impairment can still cause pets to feel anxious and disoriented. If you notice changes in your pet’s eyes (e.g., redness, swelling, pawing) or their vision (e.g., bumping into things, becoming lost easily), see your veterinarian right away. However, senior pets adapt well to vision changes and loss, if they are not in pain. Help your vision-impaired pet by providing the following:
- Supervision — Dogs should be supervised or kept on leash while outside, to prevent wandering or injury.
- Light — Pets with limited vision appreciate indoor night lights. Porch lights and solar-powered luminaries provide a comforting glow during outdoor excursions.
- Consistency — Avoid rearranging furniture, or your pet’s belongings, to prevent injury or confusion.
- Barriers — Block access to stairs with baby gates.
- Familiar scents — Don’t wash your pet’s bedding or toys too often. Pets with vision loss use odor for navigation, and find comfort in recognizable objects.
What did you say? Senior pet hearing loss
Degenerative changes to the ears’ nerves cause hearing loss in most senior pets. Hearing loss is often suspected when pets fail to respond when called, startle more easily, and sleep more soundly. While pets seem to adapt easily to their new silence, pet owners must learn to rely on nonverbal communication, such as:
- Hand signals
- Vibration collars
- Gentle taps
- Blinking light (e.g., pen light)
Because hearing impaired pets cannot recognize that a vehicle, person, or unfamiliar animal is approaching, they are at an increased risk of injury, and should be confined to a leash or a fenced area while outdoors.
I can’t keep up anymore—senior pet mobility issues
Osteoarthritis (i.e., degenerative joint disease) is common in senior dogs and cats, and can severely impair mobility, comfort, and quality of life. If your pet is sleeping more, favoring a limb, moves stiffly, or is reluctant to perform certain movements (e.g., jump, use stairs, or play), schedule an appointment at Palmer Veterinary Care. Unmanaged arthritis pain creates a vicious cycle, as the unused muscles weaken, and inactivity-induced weight gain adds pressure to aching joints, and causes severe pain.
Osteoarthritis is progressive, but can be controlled with pain medication, weight loss, exercise modification, and laser therapy. Home modifications, such as pet ramps, lift-harnesses, orthopedic bedding, and non-slip rugs, can help your pet maintain their independence, and prevent depression. Once your pet’s pain is well-controlled, talk to your veterinarian about safe, low-impact exercises.
Watch out for me—senior pet illness signs
Monitor your senior pet’s health closely for any changes. Early illness indications, such as increased thirst or urination, changes in appetite, hiding, poor grooming, or reluctance to go for a walk, may be subtle. Don’t wait for obvious signs, because intervention then may not be as effective.
You know your faithful friend better than anyone, so trust your judgement, and schedule an examination at Palmer Veterinary Clinic for anything that’s causing concern.