Thursday, August 02, 2012

Our Senior Pets

Having a senior pet is quite different than a younger pet for many reasons.  Not only is there a stronger emotional bond after living together for many years, but the aging process in animals happens so much quicker than it does for people that it sometimes feels “sudden” that they are now “old.”

Like people, pets can cling to old habits and mentally, they may want to do the same things they have always done (run with you, go to the park, eat everything they are presented with, jump onto the bed or couch, etc.), but physically, those things may become more difficult to do.  Sometimes it is a challenge to relearn how to get onto the bed more safely, or when to stop running for the ball.  As their caregivers, we also have to be reasonable about what we ask them to do.  We may need to adjust our routine, walk a shorter distance with them, put a step stool or bench at the end of the bed, or provide a lower perch or more steps up to the cat post.  We may need to be more careful about the foods we offer, raise the food bowl, or put down non-slip floor mats to help them eat or drink on their own.  We also can be careful not to over feed them (out of love) to the point that it is more difficult for them to move (or even breathe!) sometimes. 
When we think our pets are no longer as comfortable as they once were, it is a reasonable time to have a discussion with your veterinarian about their quality of life and what options are available for comfort care.   More frequent visits and health checks to ensure they don’t decline prematurely just makes sense.  Sometimes medication can be recommended to help with arthritis, or alternative treatments for indigestion or incontinence.  Often we assume that age may be the reason for their lethargy, or weight gain, or incontinence, and fail to see that it is actually a correctable medical problem that could be the beginning of something worse if unchecked.   Or maybe one just needs reassurance that what we are seeing is a normal aging process rather than a medical or behavioral issue.  And occasionally it is time to consider whether a pet is actually suffering or not. 
It is not easy to contemplate euthanasia.  The fact that our pets’ life spans are shorter than ours makes it likely that if we are lucky enough to have a pet reach their senior days in our care, we will need to consider the option of euthanasia to help them transition “to the other side” as humanely as possible.  We recognize the importance of allowing our pets to pass with dignity and without pain.  One of the questions I always ask myself is if my pet is still having more good days than bad, and whether or not they are able to appreciate the things in life that they normally enjoy (e.g. spending time with their people, eating, drinking, resting).   If the time comes when that is no longer the case, and we can’t mitigate the discomfort, euthanasia may be the best for our beloved pet.   I encourage you to have a discussion with your veterinarian and your family about what is best for your pet, and for you.  It is not the same for everyone.   We have all hoped that somehow Fluffy would pass quietly in the night, but unfortunately that rarely happens.  Our pets give us years of unconditional love.  They depend on us to help them with their transitions as much as we are able.  
But in the meantime enjoy the journey because it is sooo wonderful!  Don’t you agree??

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