Let’s be honest. Nobody wants to admit they are getting old, and the idea that beloved pets are aging can be difficult for veterinary customers to accept. However, frequent examinations and professional grooming, combined with adequate home care, can help make pet aging a positive experience for both pets and their owners.
It starts with training
When it comes to caring for older pets, customer education is vital. Teach pet owners how to spot subtle changes as these can be early signs of illness or dysfunction. Here are some key pet changes that veterinary teams should discuss with customers.
Diet and hydration
Encourage customers to be careful about their pet’s eating habits. Have you noticed any changes, such as B. A preference for soft foods or signs of pain while eating? In this case, dental disease could be at play. Older pets who have trouble finding their food bowl or pets that start eating and then wander away can have cognitive problems. In addition, some cats may need more fluids, so canned food is preferable.
Most older pets benefit from smaller, more frequent meals that are easy to digest. The nutritional needs of geriatric pets can be influenced by disease processes. So make sure customers come to you for appropriate referrals. Let them know that the Association of American Feed Control Officials, which regulates pet food, does not make specific recommendations for feeding seniors. Therefore, a “senior” label on pet food packaging is not necessarily the best choice.
Hydration is another behavior that home owners can assess. Did the pet drink more or less than usual? Polydipsia or polyuria can be an early indicator of kidney disease or diabetes, but in households with multiple pets it is often difficult to determine the actual water intake for individual pets.
Sleep / wake cycles and elimination
Changes in sleep / wake cycles can indicate discomfort, pain, or be a sign of cognitive dysfunction, especially in cats that howl at night for no apparent reason. Explain to clients that excessive sleeping may be due to age, but chronic disease processes can lead to lethargy. Therefore, a full medical evaluation is required.
House pollution can be a sign of polyuria or polydipsia. Is the discomfort or pain discouraging the dog from going through the dog door or the cat from stepping into the high-sided litter box? If these medical problems are excluded, cognitive dysfunction could play a role in this behavior.
Activity levels, cognition and sensory skills
Humans and pets, of course, slow down as they age, but sometimes there’s more to it than that. A pet may be lethargic due to an illness or be reluctant to move due to pain. In addition, cognitive problems can lead to an increase in inappropriate physical activity, with increased walking and pacing. It is clear that many of the problems older pets face have a cognitive dysfunction component. If medical problems are ruled out or treated, further attention should be paid to exercising, as the pet’s quality of life can suffer greatly from cognitive problems and the human-animal bond is likely to suffer as well.
Eyesight and hearing acuity decrease as the pets age, and the signs can be obvious or subtle. A dog with full cataracts can bump into walls, while pets who have difficulty navigating due to visual impairment may limit their movement to be on the safe side.
Just do it
Provide a folder for customers to keep lab work results, care instructions, and other information they collect at home, including photos. Encourage pet owners to keep a journal or record of animal health concerns. Recommend that the following types of information be included in the folder for easy access:
- Tumor map: Ask customers to take photos of lumps or bumps with an object in the photo as a size reference. These images can be compared with subsequent photos to monitor progress.
- Body and muscle condition values: Share charts that rate body condition to help customers understand the consequences of overweight and underweight pets.
- Resting breathing rate: While not every pet can develop heart or breathing problems, it is never a bad idea to have a basis for comparing them later.
- Questionnaires: Various validated questionnaires are available to determine the pain and comfort of pets, 1,2 cognition, 3 and more.
Discussion about end-of-life care
Prepare your customers for the dreaded “When is it time?” Discussion. By now, you’ve likely already introduced them into several pain and cognition questionnaires, which essentially assess quality of life. The Quality of Life Scale for Pets 4 and Gray Muzzle Quality of Life Calendar 4 offered by Lap of Love are specifically designed to assess the quality of life by allowing owners to record whether their pet had a good, a bad or a neutral day.
Finally, a growing number of hospice options are available to care for geriatric patients at home, from services provided by veterinary practices to hospice-specific practices. Readers can learn more from the International Association for Animal Hospice and Palliative Care (iaahpc.org).
Take away message
The best way to stand up for your geriatric patients is to train their owners appropriately and work together to provide the best possible care. In the end, you will help improve not only the lifespan of the pet, but also their health.
Heidi Lobprise, DVM, DAVDC, is a veterinary dentist at Main Street Veterinary Hospital and Dental Clinic in Flower Mound, Texas.
- Osteoarthritis Checklist. Zoetis Petcare. Accessed March 4, 2021. https://www.zoetisus.com/oa-pain/img/pdf/zoetis-canine-oa-checklist-printable-version.pdf
- Checklist for osteoarthritis pain in cats. Zoetis Petcare. Accessed March 4, 2021. https://www.zoetisus.com/oa-pain/img/pdf/feline-oa-checklist-print.pdf
- Tool for assessing cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Purina Institute. Accessed March 4, 2021. https://www.purinainstitute.com/sites/g/files/auxxlc381/files/2018-08/DISHAA.pdf
- Quality of life scale for pets and daily diary. Round of love. Accessed March 4, 2021. https://www.lapoflove.com/Pet_Quality_of_Life_Scale.pdf
- Gray snout quality of life calendar app for the iPhone & Android. Round of love. 2019. Accessed March 4, 2021. https://www.lapoflove.com/Quality-of-Life/Grey-Muzzle