Information To Guide You
The Elderly Pet
Elderly Pets Are Unique
My focus the last few years has been dealing specifically with the geriatric and elderly pet and the problems that are unique to them. I have found that not only are pet caretakers confused by the aging process of their pets, but veterinarians are as well. I know that I was for the greater part of my career. In these posts, I will try to help you navigate the unique challenges that elderly and end of life pets present. Over the next few months, I will try to give you a different perspective and ideas that, hopefully, will help your understanding of the process of aging in dogs and cats.
Death is the end for every living being, and we should all understand that life is a finite miracle that will come to a conclusion at some point, no matter what is done to prevent it. When death occurs, the body goes through a cascade of events that ends with stoppage of the brain, respiratory system, heart and other bodily functions
In my many years as a veterinarian and especially now that I work exclusively with elderly pets, there are three phrases, and one, two or all three of them enter into nearly every conversation I have involving end of life. I finally realized that pet caretakers, as well as veterinarians, use these phrases to give themselves permission to end an animal’s life.
Osteosarcoma is cancer of the bone. It is seen more commonly in large or giant breed dogs and occasionally in cats. It is so common in Irish Wolfhounds that any lameness should be investigated as soon as possible. It can affect any bone in the body, but usually is seen in the long bones of either the front or rear limbs.
In general terms, the geriatric period for dogs starts around 7 to 9 years of age, and for cats at around 10 years, but these parameters vary depending on species and size. The time frames listed here are certainly not exact and are only used as reference points for discussion.
Feline Injection Site Sarcomas (FISS) are extremely aggressive cancers that may be related to an injection or vaccination. The specific cause is unknown. They can develop from 3 months to 4 years post vaccination, or injection, and some don’t show up for five or more years.
Check-ups are important as the dog or cat ages and signs of heart disease can often be diagnosed or suggested when the veterinarian listens to the heart via a stethoscope. If a murmur or heart beat arrhythmia is auscultated (heard), the doctor may recommend a visit to a veterinary cardiologist for a more detailed and complete diagnosis to see if treatment is necessary.
Litter boxes are not made for cats, they are made to make things easier for people. The same is true of litters. In most situations, the younger cat will adapt to both the litter used as well as the box, but the older, or elderly, cat may have problems that can result in them soiling outside the box.
Since I just deal with geriatric, elderly and terminal pets, I see masses (tumors, growths) within the abdomen fairly frequently. Certain breeds are represented more often: Labradors, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and Pit Bulls are among the most commonly affected.
Different studies have shown that a large percentage, (90% by age 12 in one study) of cats have some degree of degenerative joint disease or arthritis. A significant percentage (45%) of these cats show clinical signs. Arthritis can be seen in cats as young as 2 years and the percentage goes up above 90% when cats reach the elderly stage (17 years and over).
List compiled by Belinda McLeod for Cake Blog
Some of these books offer suggestions on how to grieve the loss of a pet. Others are stories that celebrate animals. Choose the book carefully, especially if you are using it as a gift. You don’t want to open old wounds in your attempt to offer solace.
Even if you are purchasing a book for adults, it is encouraged that you check out the second part of the list. Children’s books can be more accessible, and easier to manage, in a difficult period.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease is relatively common in older cats, but can be seen in younger cats, as well. It is characterized by frequent vomiting and/or diarrhea, although frequent vomiting seems to be more common. Vomiting cats can also have intestinal lymphoma, and IBD, along with intestinal lymphoma, account for around 90% of cases with chronic vomiting and/or diarrhea as the main presenting symptom.
Vestibular disease is related to a problem in the middle ear whereby the normal orientation of the body related to earth is not normal. It causes dizziness and is similar to motion sickness. In dogs, it is called Old Dog Vestibular Disease and in cats, it is called Feline Idiopathic Vestibular Disease.
Unfortunately, this one of the most common problems seen in geriatric and older cats. The average age of onset is 13. It’s an insidious disease that results in many other related afflictions due to the increased level of thyroid hormone, T4, released from the paired glands located in the laryngeal area of the neck.
Taking cats to the veterinary office can be a frustrating and traumatic ordeal, as many owners have experienced. Because of the perceived emotional “trauma,” it seems like a much better alternative to have a veterinarian come into the home for the examination. In fact, this may not be the best approach after all.