Your ageing pet: What to watch for, what to do, how to cope

Your ageing pet: What to watch for, what to do, how to cope

Lily came into Matt and Diana's lives when they needed her the most. Over the years, their dog became just as dependent on them.

April 3, 2019

The couple had just moved to a new city and it was big, unfamiliar and lonely. Lily was a rescue dog-a gorgeous black and tan beagle with big, dark puppy eyes-and as soon as they saw her, that was it: the new happy family became inseparable. Wherever Matt and Diana went, Lily was always right behind. Life was perfect.

And then one day they realized that Lily had started to slow down. “There were lots of ways it changed our life,” recounts Diana. “Our walks became shorter and less rewarding, and Lily was no longer able get up on the sofa. Most nights we couldn't let her sleep with us in case she fell. We had to carry her down the stairs and we got a harness with a handle to help Lily with balance. It was heartbreaking.”

Coping with an ageing pet isn't easy, both physically for the pet and emotionally for the owner. There are signs to watch out for though, approaches to help ease your animal into old age and ways to cope with these changes.

Many issues that arise as pets age are manageable with medications, diet changes and your veterinarian’s advice. Pain management should be addressed and your veterinarian can suggest tools to help boost your pet’s quality of life. After all, ageing is not a disease!

According to Dr Tania Mutch, a veterinarian at Hôpital Vétérinaire Lachute in Quebec, some of the most common signs your pet is getting older are that it starts to slow down and sleep longer, its coat starts to dull and become gray, it may experience loss of hearing and vision (night vision first) and it has difficulty moving like it used to.

“Pets can also get cognitive dysfunction as they age, like changes in personality, seeming lost or forgetful, or loss of house-training,” says Dr Mutch. But several simple tactics can help with this natural stage of life. Foods for senior pets, which are high in fibre, can ease gut issues and the glucosamine or chondroitin supplements they contain help with mobility. “Omega 3 supplementation can also help skin and coat issues and may even help cardiac and joints, and there are some medications for cognitive dysfunction in older pets that can help slow down the process,” suggests Dr Mutch.

With senior pets it's important to be vigilant for any strange or unusual behaviour. It pays to be proactive and get things checked out before they get too serious. “Drinking and peeing more than usual can be signs of decreasing kidney function or can also be signs of endocrinology imbalances like Cushing's disease,” cautions Dr Mutch. “Keep an eye on all bumps and lumps and get your vet to check out any that seem to be growing or changing, as geriatric pets are more prone to cancer. Episodes of weakness or collapse can indicate cardiac problems, anemia, neurological issues, or even cancer. And loss of muscle is normal in an ageing pet but can also indicate neurological issues.”

What else is there to do, besides being there for your little furry pal? Dr Mutch suggests starting with senior-specific food, yearly blood tests to monitor organ functions, maintaining dental health, and-if any cardiac or abdominal issues are suspected—X-rays and ultrasounds. In terms of physical activity, no matter how old your pet, it's always important but keep it low impact, like walking instead of running or chasing.

Dealing with the physicality of your best animal friend getting older is one thing but considering that their life might be coming to an end is much harder to cope with. The most important thing to remember is your pet's quality of life. They might be slowing down and unable to do what they used to but are they still enjoying themselves? Do they still like to play with their toy mouse? Or go for a walk? Do they still enjoy treats? Come to meet you when you get home and interact with the family? Enjoying these situations means that while your pet might be ageing, they are still having a good life. According to Dr Mutch, it's time to worry when they no longer enjoy activities they used to like and when they start to isolate themselves. That's when it's time to see your vet.

“I remind myself every day that Lily reached old age—12 years old—in a happy, loving home and that her time with us was good,” explains Diana, who lost Lily last December. “I miss her terribly, but that's what we sign up for when we bring a pet into the family. It's not a tragedy. It's the cycle of life.”

Photo credit : personal collection

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