Dr. Kaitlin Agel, DVM, MPH
All pet parents want their fur babies to live long and happy, healthy lives. As veterinary care expands and improvements in preventive medicine are developed, more and more pets are living well into their senior years. This is excellent news! Senior pets are amazing! They have been deeply integrated into their owner’s lives over many years, through all kinds of life experiences. The bond that an owner shares with a senior pet is truly something special. As veterinarians, we want to preserve that bond, and keep the owner informed and well-prepared for changes that senior pets might experience. Most of these animals have been seeing a veterinarian at least once a year throughout their adult lives for wellness care and vaccinations. Just as in human medicine, normal aging changes require more intensive health screenings and additional testing should be performed. Yearly bloodwork should be performed throughout the life of a pet, and after the age of 7 a urinalysis and thyroid scan should be included as well. Auditory and ophthalmologic testing should be performed to address any possible hearing or vision changes. Blood pressure and electrical activity of the heart (EKG) should be assessed. Depending on the size, breed, or sex of the pet; performing x-rays of the hips, chest, or other area may be warranted. These tests should be performed annually, and your veterinarian may recommend more frequent screenings for some pets. Your veterinarian may also recommend other testing based on location, history, or lifestyle. All of these screenings are designed to catch health issues early so that treatment or management can begin as soon as possible.
One aspect of senior pet care that some owners struggle with is the fear of diagnosis. As pets age, owners begin to notice changes in mobility or energy and may avoid going to the veterinarian. Many people do not even consciously realize this avoidance is happening, so it is important that you make an effort to address any changes noted with your veterinarian. There are a multitude of therapies available to ease the aging process and make life easier for senior pets and their owners. Additionally, do not fear judgement from your veterinarian. We are here to help you and your pet enjoy the best quality of life possible for as long as possible, by using our own medical knowledge and resources. Think of your veterinarian as a tool you can use to make your own well-informed decision on how to best manage your senior pet’s daily life.
One part of senior pet living that most people are unaware of is the number of senior pets available for adoption. When most people think of adopting a new pet, they consider all the responsibilities and time involved in training and caring for a new puppy. Long nights with little sleep, vaccination appointments, play time every day, and so many trips outside for potty training! This is a big job and can deter some people from adopting a new pet, even if they want one! Luckily, there is a viable alternative to a new puppy or kitten, and November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month! Many of these animals ended up in adoption services due to owner health issues or living arrangement changes that force owners to surrender the pet. These dogs and cats can have many years left and could be an amazing addition to a household. Often these pets are already trained and they like to live life at a slower pace. These are the golden years of leisurely walks, gentle play times, and lots of lounging around. Consider adopting a senior pet next time you are looking for a new family member, and you might meet your perfect match!