Lately there have been many of our very first customers crossing the Rainbow Bridge and it has brought up many questions, comments and emotions at The Moab BARKery. Dogs and cats are a very important part of our homes and lives; they are part of the family. So when the golden years approach we are all worried about what to do and how to make the best of these times for our pets. You spend the most time with your pets so when it comes to getting the best care for them you are also an advocate. You know their personalities, tolerances and temperaments best of all, so make sure to consider that first when making decisions for your senior pets as well as your own feelings too. There are many things to consider, but three main categories to focus on are professional care, home care, and end of life choices.
Professional care of senior animals is a large part of any veterinary practice, and often the type of care changes as the pets get older. When the annual wellness exams go from a physical inspection, quick vaccine and hand shake to a long list of paperwork and tests to consider, it can be daunting. Also knowing your vets views on care and your own ideas/tolerances can become an important part of your old pet’s life. Knowing what your tolerances are for procedures, testing, and cost are an important thing to consider. Dogs of any age can end up in emergency care in which you need to make a choice for an expensive test, or procedure that may not have the best outcome, but knowing what you can handle when you are calm, can help in tough situations.
Another important part of senior professional care is the use of Titer testing/bloodwork. Titer testing for vaccines has become a much more common practice for adult dogs but is crucial for senior pets. Its become known that challenging an immune system with unnecessary vaccines can cause far more immune problems than it does preventing them. So after initial puppyhood vaccines, testing for the presence of the vaccines and only vaccinating for what is necessary can help reduce the amount of stress the overall immune system experiences.
Talk about palliative care versus preventative care with your pet health professional. It’s a tough topic, but when your pets get older there is a time in which you need to make your pet comfortable. Ask your vet about the type of exercise their range of motion can handle, and what will work best for older pets. Things like acupuncture, hydrotherapy, Reiki, pet massage and homeopathy can make a big difference in comfort through their golden years.
Home care is where you can affect the most change for older pets. Many older dogs start to change in eating habits, personality, and ability as they get older. The dog that used to jump and catch Frisbees (but has now blown both their ACL’s) should be catching slow rolling balls. In other words change the fun to their abilities, reduce the potential for a blowout. If your dog jumps the last few stairs but loses their back end each time, consider a runner or yoga mat to prevent slipping. Older dogs appreciate runners in the hallway, soft beds instead of hard floors and fewer challenges for their older frames. Even a harness for help on steps or in and out of the car can make a big difference for seniors. Gates to prevent access to dangerous areas are a must for seniors as well as puppies; there are just some places that are not safe.
Another important part of home senior pet care is calories. We hear this a lot, that pets will just stop eating something they used to love. Senses dull as we get older, and things just don’t always taste like they used to. Quite often older pets will also refuse supplements in their food as well. This is when your game plan needs to change. If possible offer them something better quality as a first resort (like if you do dry, start offering some canned or freeze dried). Sometimes warming the food can entice an older pet’s appetite, or making it softer (adding water, or changing to wet) will do the trick. Refusing an occasional meal is no big deal, but if they are turning up their noses at dinner regularly, pick your battles. If older pets demand a cooked meal of chicken, or something new, it’s best to keep them in calories, just make sure they are appropriate enough for pet consumption (no sugar, salt or chocolate).
Supplements and nutraceuticals for pets can be an important part of senior pet care, and make sure you are being advised by a professional when getting advice. Often chronic conditions can be treated holistically, pharmaceutically or in many cases with both. Senior dogs often have a medicine cabinet that rivals many humans, and the taste is not always so pleasant to their palate either. Some just don’t want to eat their medicine, so rather than trying to include it with food you need something more high reward. Refrigerated small (pea size to grape size) balls of coconut oil, peanut butter or wet dog food can provide a little taste bomb that hides the goods. A supplement that should always assist an older pet is digestive enzymes, prebiotics and probiotics. Absorbing nutrition become a challenge as we get older and helping assist in this process can keep older guts in balance and harmony. Choose yours based on storage (some need to be refrigerated), ease of use and effectiveness.
Another part of home care for a thriving older pet is keeping up on regular care, but also sometimes not! That’s right, there is going to be a point in which older pets will not tolerate handling or procedures they used to be accustomed too. If this regular care causes too much stress (they hide from you, resist to the point of meltdown or bite you) it may be time to stop. Brushing an arthritic back can be painful (but switching to a gentle rub with a rubber glove) to remove dead hair may be better. In other words, try and stay on top of maintenance care, adjust if necessary but don’t push your old pets too far. Part of good senior care is making it comfortable to be in that body, and if it’s too much, stop!
Make a plan about end of life care before it happens. Old pets die, and you want it to be as easy and pain-free as possible. Talk with your vet about what type of palliative care you can provide at home, in the clinic and if and when the times comes about euthanasia. Often the care that is needed requires you to perform small medical procedures, like giving subcutaneous fluids at home, and can often be taught to you instead of taking the pet to the clinic each time. Do what you can to make their last years/months and even days the most comfortable and stress free as possible.
The hardest part is knowing when it is the right time to say goodbye. There is no wrong or right answer for each person, and you will always have regrets. My advice is to try and be objective about quality of life. Are they enjoying their food and eating? Are they responding to you and your family? Do they want to do many of the things they used to do? Are they interested in their surrounding/people? You see these pets in their slow fade and often it is hard to tell if they are doing worse than the day before, so ask your vet, your dog walker, groomer, pet sitter, or those who know your pet but, don’t see them every day. They will see bigger changes than you do.
In the end, no two people will agree on when is the time for euthanasia. Some wait until there is almost nothing left and it’s 100% mercy. Others will pick a good day with all their favorite things as a way to say goodbye. Both are correct and both will come with regrets. Setting yourself up with a little planning and foresight can make a very painful thing easier to bare as you say goodbye to your pets. Also Remember it’s all too common for pets to want to be alone for their crossing of the rainbow bridge. Many times they wait until they are alone to do it. Death and dying is a tough subject, but remember to talk about it when you can handle the topic, it makes facing it easier.