Do You Have a Senior Or Geriatric Pet? What The Difference Is and How We Can Help.
Growing old doesn’t have to be a burden and we're here to help you understand what the difference between senior and geriatric care is, as well as what you need to do for your pet at each life stage to make sure they are happy and healthy.
Pets that are generally between 7 - 12 years of age.
We’re talking about the dog who is going grey in the muzzle and maybe seems a little stiff in the morning, but is otherwise happy to go for walks.
They eat and drink well, can climb stairs, and go to the bathroom without problems. They still clearly enjoy life.
Small dogs and cats over age 12. Larger breeds of dogs around 10 -11 years.
Geriatric pets are visibly in a different bracket when it comes down to quality of life and their ability to do things on their own.
We’re talking about the dog or cat who sleeps for many hours a day. They struggle to walk very far or may have developed soiling issues in the house. Due to failing vision and hearing, they may become anxious; with panting, whining and pacing behaviors all common.
For this group, life is a little less rosy, but the good days outweigh the bad and for the most part life seems good enough. The crucial word in the past sentence is “seems”. These pets can be challenging to live with and can cost much in terms of money, time and emotional input.
Why is this difference important?
The reason we separate these two life stages is because each group has dramatically different needs and places different burdens on the caregiver (that’s you, their lovely owner.)
Senior animals are generally still quite healthy and require very little additional care.
Dental disease is the biggest threat to wellness for these cats and dogs. But aside from this, the important things are to make minor adjustments to food choice and portion size. Weight management is going to be a central pillar of health as pet’s get older and need help to avoid many of the worse conditions that lurk further down the road for the heavier pet. Including, arthritis, diabetes and cancer.
The changes we need to make are relatively minor and are mostly about monitoring health status more closely so we pick up problems early.
Geriatric animals require an altogether different approach because these pets have more advanced problems happening and often more than one problem combined.
Pain management is crucial for this group of pets because pain levels can be very high as diseases are starting to enter a more advanced stage. Large breed dogs in this age range will almost all have very painful arthritis that is affecting their ability to walk as well as their happiness. This may show up as sleeping more, bed wetting or self-soothing behaviors like licking the sore joints, pacing, or whining.
Geriatric pets are also far more likely to be struggling with multiple health issues. It is not uncommon for a pet to present heart and dental issues alongside arthritis. Each of which takes its toll on health and vitality.
For you, as the owner of a geriatric pet, particularly one with multiple issues, the burden of caring for them can be high. You’ll be committing more time, sleepless nights, expenses, and often feel like you are riding an emotional roller coaster wondering if you are doing the right thing. Plus, if you have a bigger dog, there is an increased physical burden too. You’ll be working those biceps and lower back muscles more when you are helping your pet to get into the car, into the bath, or onto the bed.
What things must I be doing for my pet?
To keep your senior pet happy and healthy we recommend the following actions:
1. Changing their diet to a lower calorie diet with reduced salt levels and high-quality controlled protein levels. This will help to reduce both weight gain and kidney problems.
2. Visit the vet routinely every 6 months to monitor health. We advise a full wellness assessment, blood pressure, and urine test during these times to track any changes.
3. Be proactive about dealing with rotten teeth and address any minor health concerns sooner rather than later before they have the chance to balloon into major issues later.
What things must I be doing for my geriatric pet?
The biggest difference in our care for geriatric pets is the focus on support, pain management and quality of life. We start to consider the trade-offs we all must be willing to make to ensure your pet's comfort and happiness in their final days.
1. If a pet will eat, then it’s certainly better to offer a lower calorie diet with reduced salt levels and high-quality controlled protein levels. But if for any reason your pet won’t eat this food, then it’s better for them to eat something they enjoy to maintain their energy and muscle mass. It might not be the ideal food, but what’s the point in kidneys that work great, if they are too weak to get out of bed and enjoy life?
2. Focus on pain control and mobility. Almost all have painful arthritis or teeth and dealing with this pain is one of the single best things you can do for your geriatric pet.
- If the teeth are rotten, have them removed and watch their energy level and joy increase dramatically within days.
- If they struggle with arthritis, the careful use of medication, acupuncture, and laser therapy can make a massive impact on their mobility, happiness, energy levels, and quality of sleep. (If they sleep well, you sleep well!)
3. Visit the vet (or have our vet visit you – we offer in home care services for older pets) every six month to set up a plan to manage the issues your pet faces. and check in regularly to monitor progress with our specially trained vet nurses. So many pet owners do not do this and just accept that old pets “slow down”. Sadly, this results in many geriatric pets living each day in unnecessary pain.
4. Adjust your home to improve their life. For example, collars should be abandoned in favor of harnesses that remove pressure from the neck and allow you to help them move around more easily. Using yoga mats on wood floors and grip tape on stairs can really help your geriatric pet to avoid painful and risky tumbles. Installing night lights near food, water and litter trays so pets can see in the dark helps with evening anxiety and home soiling. Using steps to help pets climb onto furniture or ramps to allow access to cars helps to reduce pain when walking.
There are many modifications you can make that seem like small things to you but are of huge help to your old pet.
5. Manage any health issues on a merit basis. Sometimes we’ll have to consider whether larger problems are really worth tackling with surgery and medicine in the same way as if your pet were a young animal. Ethically we have to stop and ask the question, “Is this treatment really in the pet’s best interests? Or are there other options here to consider?”
We begin to have discussions with you about what’s really important and will guide you towards the best options for your pet as our emphasis shifts more to improving quality of life. (Which somewhat ironically – and happily - almost always improves life span too!)
6. Consider reassigning the budget. We are far less concerned about vaccines in this group of pets. For example, rather than spending money on boosters in a 14-year-old cat, better to spend it on medication to improve comfort and mobility.
The most important thing is to be aware which category your pet falls into and then book an appointment to see our team to restore or maintain optimal health.
We hope to have shed some light on the difference between senior and geriatric pets as well as given you some insight into how we think differently and have designed our service to accommodate you and your older animal. We absolutely love to see a grey muzzle either in the practice or at home and especially so if its tail is still wagging furiously!
The truth is that most pets can live a great quality of life up to and including their last few days and hours with the right support and care from both you and us. So let’s partner up to make sure your grey muzzled one has the best care, regardless of age.