Senior pet and vet

When you have an older pet, the most important thing to remember is this: Dying isn’t optional, but suffering often can be.

In other words, don’t assume that a sick or elderly pet can’t enjoy many weeks, months or even years of pain-free, comfortable and joyful living. And your veterinarian can help make that possible, because we understand why that’s important, and we know how to make it happen. Working with your veterinarian to help a pet in the twilight of life will add a glow that will make the time precious for you and your pet both.

Start With a Veterinary Visit

To help your older pet enjoy a high quality of life, you’ll need to make sure his health problems are addressed. That starts with a complete physical, which likely will include basic diagnostic testing. The tip-of-the-nose-to-tip-of-the-tail exam your veterinarian provides will also include a dental exam and a careful evaluation of all tests for signs of problems in vital organs such as the kidneys

After the check-up — and older pets should get them twice a year — you and your veterinarian will go over the results and set priorities for care. In many older pets, years of “deferred maintenance” when it comes to dental care have resulted in broken, rotting teeth and infected gums. I’ve seen cases that looked as if a blowtorch were passed over the pet’s gums. These pets are in constant pain, and are often not eating well. These urgencies and emergencies must be addressed, and you may be shocked at how much happier your pet seems once they have been.

Follow Up With Home Care

Once your pet’s most urgent health problems have been addressed, you and your veterinarian can work on a plan of supportive care, much of which you can provide relatively easily at home.

  • Pain management is essential. Older pets, like older people, are often dealing with pain that comes from arthritis. There are changes you can make at home — adding litter boxes on each floor, providing soft pet beds, even stair steps to help pets onto furniture — but the biggest impact will come from medical and lifestyle changes. If your pet is overweight, you must trim him down to relieve pressure on the joints — and your veterinarian can help with that! Supplements such as glucosamine and omega-3 fatty acids may also help, and when it comes to prescription care, your veterinarian can provide a medication or combination of medications that will relieve chronic pain
  • The fluids need to flow. Many older pets struggle with hydration. In some cases that’s because it hurts to move, making getting to the water bowl more trouble than it’s worth. Pain management will help these pets, and so will making water more accessible and appealing. I love pet drinking fountains, and can’t recommend them enough. Providing pets with a constant supply of fresh flowing water is an easy way to encourage more fluid intake. Your veterinarian can also tailor recommendations to your pet, such as switching to moist food (which has more water content). For many older pets — especially cats — giving fluids at home gives struggling kidneys a needed boost.
  • Dental care should be daily. Once your veterinarian has fixed the painful problems in your pet’s mouth, be sure to keep the good health going with daily oral care. While brushing is ideal, it’s not the only thing that can help. Talk to your veterinarian about “good, better, best” options, including oral rinses and chews.

It’s up to every one of us not to take any day for granted, and that includes making sure our time with our pets is the best it can be. Your veterinarian wants to help make that happen for you and your pet.