We see pets of all types, shapes, sizes, and ages at our emergency hospital. I have a special place in my heart for the sweet senior pets. They always seem to look at me with so much wisdom and engagement. For our older furry friends, we have special protocols in place to ensure we keep them as safe as possible and treat them to the best of our ability. In our world, we oftentimes have to sedate high risk patients, such as those with heart murmurs, kidney/liver disease, and older dogs because they have a more imminent life-threatening issue. I am going to highlight some of the important factors I evaluate and keep in mind when I am treating a senior pet.
First off, what is a senior pet? We typically define geriatric in cats as age 9 or above. In dogs, the geriatric status begins between ages 6-9 depending on the size of the dog. As with humans, age is really just a number. A pet’s lifestyle and underlying conditions may “age” them faster than others.
The major considerations for senior pets for me include:
- Hospitalization: Our senior friends are often more seasoned when it comes to procedures such as blood draws, IV catheter placement, and handling. However they can be stressed if they stay with us in hospital due to the new environment, smells, and change in routine. Dogs and cats can suffer from an Alzheimer’s-like syndrome that can cause them to forget housetraining behavior, tricks, or even where they are. Some pets try to bite when they are scared and confused. We try very hard to make sure all our hospitalized pets have a safe place to hide (i.e. a box with cats) or a comforting toy if appropriate.
- Restraint/Handling: Older dogs and cats often have stiff joints and arthritis that they are not always clinical for. We keep in mind that our typical restraint for IV catheters or blood draws may hurt them, whereas it wouldn’t bother a puppy or young animal. We are also very gentle while taking radiographs since that could flare up their arthritis or back pain.
- Anesthesia/Recovery: While age is not a disease, we do recognize that older dogs and cats often have concurrent issues that make anesthesia riskier for them. When we take geriatric patients to surgery, we have specific protocols to address any underlying issues and reducing the risk of anesthesia as best as possible. They oftentimes do not require as much anesthesia or sedation because of their slower metabolism. Our older friends often take longer to recover from the medications and can sometimes be confused when they wake up. Despite the extra padding and thick bedding that we use, they are often sore from being on their backs for surgery and need treated appropriately.
- Bathroom habits: We take special considerations about the bathroom habits of all our patients but specifically our senior patients. We walk all of our hospitalized patients every 4 hours. For our seniors, we often walk and change their bedding more frequently. Sometimes we use slings to help walk our geriatric dogs so they can ambulate better and not slip. Older patients are more likely to develop rashes or scalding due to their sensitive skin. We also use heating sources as needed to keep them nice and warm.
In summary, we treat a great number of geriatric patients and our staff knows to take special considerations of their needs. We recognize that these pets are very special, whether they were just adopted as an adult or senior pet or an owner has had him/her their whole lives.