Giving Thanks for Our Elderly Pets

elderly cat

Thanksgiving has descended upon a snowy winter Chicago Wonderland. As the festivities begin, and the pumpkin-spiced scent of pastries everywhere begins to overtake ours senses without mercy, it is hard to escape the natural need to look at our homes and our furry friends, and be thankful for their presence in our lives. Turn up the furnace, and let the pileup of the dogs and cats into the bed begin as everyone tries to keep warm and toasty.

But do some of your pets no longer make the trip upstairs to sleep by your bed? Does your 12-year-old Labrador seem to favor the downstairs couch by the door? Does your 15-year-old tabby cat now prefer to sleep by the heating vent instead of the window sill in your room? And come to think of it, does she also not seem as excited when you come home from work? Does he not get excited about his food anymore, barely eating his kibble, despite seemingly being hungry? If you are answering yes, then you are probably getting nervous about dealing with how your beloved furry friends are aging. These things that seem to indicate our pets are getting older generally strike fear and cause anxiety in us all. Sometimes we don’t want to think about it, and sometimes we assume that if our dog seems tired that it’s probably a brain tumor, so “Please Do Not EVER Talk About It!” because your plans involve them living to be 25 years, minimally.

As your pets start to age and even become wise elders, you don’t have to put your head in the sand and hope that nothing’s wrong. You don’t have to assume that slowing down is just an accepted part of aging. There are plenty of precautions you can take to help your cats and dogs age gracefully and comfortably, and sometimes over a long time. We cannot, though, do anything, unless we see your animals, so here is a non-comprehensive list of issues we can address:

Orthopedic Pain/Back Pain
It is so common that owners will state that their pets are slowing down but it’s just because they’re getting old. So often it is the case that dogs and cats that once were running around like puppies and kitties, but now are reluctant, are experiencing some kind of pain. Whether it be arthritis, neck, or back pain, these types of ailments can sometimes be corrected with anti-inflammatories or pain medications. Sometimes we put a five-year-old dog on such medications for a few days, and owners report that he is back to acting like he used to. We would not hesitate in taking medications for our arthritis, so why wouldn’t we want to treat our pets?

Vision and Hearing Loss
Many cats and dogs start to lose their vision or hearing as they age. The majority of owners do not realize that their seemingly slowing-down pet is slowing down because of this. There aren’t many things we can do for animals who are losing hearing or vision, but helping you understand their issue can make all the difference. Maybe a dog is acting aggressive because when the lights are out she doesn’t know what’s going on because she’s deaf and now scared. Maybe making sure that there is always a dim light on by her favorite rug would help. Maybe not moving the cat food to a different part of the hallway would help your blind cat always feel comfortable and secure in knowing where to get her food. Maybe trying to avoid having them run up and down stairs could help them avoid accidents. These are all things we can help you with.

Dental Disease
Dental disease is real and prolific. For many animals, painful and inflamed teeth and gums prevent them from eating normally, or sometimes just enjoying life. The fix for dental disease isn’t always expensive and invasive, though sometimes it can be if extractions or x-rays are needed. Sometimes a good cleaning and subsequent brushing can stop the problem. There are tricks to brushing your pets’ teeth, and even some alternatives including choices of food and supplementations. No animal is immune to dental disease.

Is your pet eating the correct food for his age or for her proper metabolic state? Most brands of pet food make different formulations for different ages. This isn’t a sales shtick. Pets need a proper type of protein depending on how their body uses it, not to mention supplementations that can help with their overall health. There are types of diseases, such as chronic kidney disease, joint disease, and thyroid disease, that can be effectively controlled or helped strictly through nutritional management. We can help you with this based on what we know about your pet. Which is why the next bit of advice is the most important thing to consider.

Overall Wellness
Please have us see your pet, minimally, once a year. For older animals, sometimes we will recommend an appointment every six months. If we can catch problems early, proper management can add years to your pet’s life. We can catch things such as kidney disease, liver disease, hyperthyroidism, early stages of diabetes and other endocrinological diseases, orthopedic pain, gastrointestinal sensitivities, allergies, parasites, and a slew of things that could be there, but we’d never know to treat without looking. The money spent on a basic exam is minimal compared to what you’d spend to treat some of these diseases or ailments that are either preventable, manageable, or can be slowed down.

So don’t be scared of your pet’s aging. We can help you. You can help them. You don’t have to settle for them “slowing down.”

Dr. Brett Grossman
Dr. Drew Sullivan
Medical District Veterinary Clinic at Illinois