Senior Pet Care – How You Can Help – Vet Chat with Dr. R. Llera

We all want to know what and how is the best way to care for our pets. We ask all kinds of questions about the best way to raise and train them, we want to know what to feed them and the easiest way to potty train them. But what about the other stage of our pets life? The senior stage of our pets life?

On this episode of Vet Chat, Dr.Ryan Llera discusses:

Senior Pet Care – How You Can Help

People everyday are getting a new puppy, kitten, or other pet to join their family. And yes, most of the time these new additions are just in their first few months of a long life. For a few of these pets, we as veterinarians will see them for their initial vaccines, adoption exams, maybe a spay or neuter surgery. Some of them will make annual visits for a check up while others we may not see for several years once they are much older or only if they are sick. It’s these senior pets that we often can make the most difference in their quality of life.

Senior Pet Care - How You Can Help - Vet Chat with Dr. R. Llera

Regular examinations are an important part of senior pet care

I cannot stress enough the importance of an annual examination, or in the case of pets with chronic illnesses every 6 months. This should start from the time they are young adult animals until their final days. Early detection of a condition can save lives and keep pets healthier for longer. Who wouldn’t want their furry kid to have a happy life for as long as possible? That’s the first step you can do to help your pets with the aid of your veterinarian. Yet, there are somethings you can do yourself or that you should pay special attention to help them out in their golden years.

Senior Pet Care - How You Can Help - Vet Chat with Dr. R. Llera

Dr. Buzby’s Toe Grips

Mobility issues can be quite difficult to overcome but can make a significant improvement in how a pet feels. Signs can be obvious from a noticeable limp to more subtle signs such as dragging a foot, difficulty with stairs, or a decreased appetite. While some patients will benefit from supportive medications, the most important thing you can do is to keep them at a healthy weight! If you have slippery floors, you should look at adding some area rugs or another idea is a product called Dr. Buzby’s Toe Grips. These grips fit onto the nails on your dog and help them in getting traction so they can walk around better. Another quick tip: If you’ve got stairs, consider a ramp.

 

Senior Pet Care - How You Can Help - Vet Chat with Dr. R. Llera

Get those lumps and bumps checked out

Lumps and bumps are often seen as a part of growing old. Sometimes these lumps can be benign but that means there’s also a potential chance for them to be malignant. The tendency for many people tends to be watching the lump to see if it changes in size, color, temperature, or texture. The problem is when those lumps grow in areas such as the legs which make it difficult to remove them entirely or not without a higher risk of complications. Another risk if is the pet chews on the lumps or if they burst. Let’s be honest for a moment…when someone tells me the lump wasn’t there yesterday, that can only be the truth less than 20% of the time. So as my colleague Dr. Sue Cancer Vet says, “Why wait? Aspirate!” Basically, if a lump is there for more than a month and is larger than a pea, you should get it checked out before it’s too late.

Much like people, senior pets can show signs changes in their behaviour similar to Alzheimer’s disease in people. In cats & dogs, we call this cognitive dysfunction. There are no definitively effective treatments unfortunately but there are some things that can help. In particular, some specialty prescription diets can help protect the brain from free radicals which can lead to oxidation of cells in the brain. Hence, the idea of antioxidants can help to reduce this damage by blocking the reactions. Something else to consider would be to go against the adage of “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and work/play with them to give their brains something to be challenged by. Studies show that for people doing activities like crossword puzzles that encourage thought processes can delay or help fight the onset these changes so maybe there’s some hope that it could work for pets too. Some ideas to work on are scent or food detection (think the object is under one of three bowls sleight of hand trick) or even reinforcing previously learned behaviors or tricks.

 

Senior Pet Care - How You Can Help - Vet Chat with Dr. R. Llera

Changes in your pets eyes

Other changes that you might notice might be with their eyes. Some eye conditions may affect vision but could possibly be painful as well. For some breeds such as brachycephalics (pugs, pekingese, shih tzus), they will often develop a condition called dry eye which while not necessarily painful, can be uncomfortable and cause a pigmentation of the cornea. If they are going blind, just don’t rearrange the furniture. Moving to the back end of the pet, incontinence is often over-represented as a presenting complaint when pets arrive at the clinic. Yes, they may be leaking urine but in reality, the odds of a urinary tract infection, kidney disease, or diabetes creating urine overflow are much more likely.

Your pets aren’t “just getting old.” While they are aging, they are living longer than they did 20 years ago and that means we’ll see more health problems. There are many facets to the care of your senior pet. You are their biggest advocate and need to be the watchdog over their health. By noticing subtle changes and having them addressed as soon as possible, you can keep things from getting worse and making treatment less difficult & more promising. A general rule of thumb is a check up every 6-12 months.

Senior pets are just like our older relatives, treasured companions that are still full of love; so be sure to take care of them!

Dr. Ryan Llera is a small animal veterinarian at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic in Kingston, Ontario. Though originally from Florida, he married a Canadian (who is also a vet!) and they share their home with 3 cats, 2 dogs, 2 horses and a pet rat named Sherman. Ryan is also a regular guest writer for the Ontario SPCA blog. You can find more of his writing at www.drryanllera.com or see what else he is up to on Facebook & Instagram.

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Author: Kelly Harding & Edie The Pug

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32 Comments

    • It is sad when they start aging. I wish our pets could always stay young and healthy.

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  1. I was surprised when my vet recommended that our senior pet come in every 6 months, but it makes a lot of sense.

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    • Lots can change for a senior pet in 6 months

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  2. Awesome chat and great tips! I’m sure this post will be very helpful to those with senior dogs.

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  3. We know all about lumps and bumps. Found quite a few on Oakley last year we had to get checked out! Two of them were cancer! Never wait! Always go get them checked!

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    • Lumps are scary! I’ll never forget the one I found on Edie, it was between the folds on her face. It was removed and sent away for a biopsy, but luckily for us it was benign. You cannot tell just by looking at a lump or bump what it is, so you must have it checked out by your vet and the sooner the better.

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  4. We’ve adopted a lot of seniors, providing respite care – we found that as they truly get on in age it was beneficial to go in to the vets every 4-6 months – so much can change as pups (and humans!) age! Preventive medicine is the best 🙂 wonderful post!

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  5. I remember the changes in my previous cat, Praline, as she grew older. I loved her just as much and made sure she was well taken care of.

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    • That’s great news!

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  6. Great information. I have to book Kilo’s annual check up – it’s a bit of a challenge as he really hates going. So many things can go wrong- best to keep on top of health.

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    • I’m lucky Edie doesn’t mind going to the vet, but even if she did I know going is for her own good. I’m sure a trip to the pet store afterwards would make Kilo forgive you 😉

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  7. Great tips! I’ve heard a lot of wonderful things about Dr. Buzby’s toegrips.

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  8. Great post! I would also recommend adding information on dental care and maintenance. All of these pieces are hugely important and worth the reminder.

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    • You are so right! Dental care and maintenance is a very big part of our pets healthcare at any age.

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  9. Thank you for a terrific post! We mean it too. Thank you for uncluding us cats in your interview with Dr Llera – we have two senior cats and I know I need to spend more time with them interacting. This confirms that, and, yes we take our seniors to the vet every six months for a health check even when they are well.

    I think generally, most of us sense when I pet is unwell, our Jack ‘looked’ vaguely out of sorts, and the following day an eye infection came out of ‘nowhere’ so off to the vet he went.

    I am going to share this post – its important!

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    • Thank you! Of course we need to include our cats! – We have two of our own, both who are now in the senior stage of life.
      We always “know” when something is just not right with one of our fur kids. I’m happy Jack got to the vet to take care of his eye infection.

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  10. We usually see our vet more than twice a year. Bentley gets a bi-annual senior wellness checkup.

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    • Good for you keeping up with Bentley’s wellness checkups! As they get older a lot can change in a year.

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  11. I used toe grips for my dog Vic after his knee surgery and they worked well. I’m putting them back on him for spring to help him run. Since my 17 year old cat was 13, the Vet’s been telling me she’s senior. Not by my standards – maybe she is now, But when you’ve had cats live 20 years or more, it’s hard to see 13 as senior.

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    • We have two cats. Lloyd just turned 11 and Lily will be 14 in a couple of weeks. It hard to believe they are considered seniors, especially when they may show no visual signs of ill health or mobility issues. But I am seeing a difference in Lily’s mobility over the past year and have been following up with our vet. Cats can be masters of disguise when it comes to ill health.

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  12. Good reminder to keep up with extra appointments for seniors.

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  13. Senior pet care is definitely a whole new ballgame! Thanks for the interview!

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    • Senior pet care is another stage of our pets life and we need to know how to be prepared to help them.

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    • Yes we are! We have to speak up for our pets.

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