November is Senior Pet Month! As pet age, it‘s important to pay attention to subtle changes in your pet‘s behavior and daily habits. As with humans, aging brings about changes in health, mobility, stamina, appetite and sleep habits. Some of these changes are to be expected, but it’s important to differentiate normal aging behaviors from behaviors arising from pain.
Chronic pain caused by age-related osteoarthritis and dental pain are experienced by many older pets. And when our pets are experiencing pain, they can’t tell us when and where it hurts. But by being keenly attuned to changes, pet owners can recognize when their pet is experiencing pain.
Never try to treat your pet’s pain on your own. Not only are human pain relievers unsafe for pets, the source of the pain needs to be identified. Different sources of pain need different types of treatment.
The following are some of the signs that your cat or dog may show if they are in pain:
- decreased appetite or thirst
- decreased activity or reluctance to play
- reluctance to go for walks
- refusal to go up or down stairs
- reluctance to jump up on surfaces like beds, couches, chairs, or into the car
- reluctance to lie down and/or difficulty rising
- lameness, limping, or holding a paw in the air when sitting
- difficulty finding a comfortable position
- difficulty eating or dropping food from the mouth while eating (signs of dental pain)
- difficulty using the litter box or lapses in housetraining
- unusual body posture
- shaking or trembling
- sleeping more or less than usual
- licking (or over-grooming) one area, like a paw or the hind end
- a decrease in grooming resulting in an unkempt appearance or matted hair
- fast and shallow breathing or panting for no apparent reason
- unusual vocalizing, including whining, howling, yelping, groaning, growling, and whimpering in dogs; and purring (yes, purring can be related to pain!), hissing, meowing, and growling in cats
If notice changes in your pet‘s daily habits or his/her appearance (such as urination or defecation habits, sleeping habits, exercise tolerance, or skin and coat condition), pay attention, make notes, and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will perform a senior wellness check which may include a complete physical exam, dental check, body condition score, pain assessment, bloodwork, urinalysis, and nutrition review.
Once your veterinarian has determined the underlying cause of your pet’s pain, a treatment plan will be developed and the following recommendations may be a part of that plan:
- pain control for arthritis (which may include supplements, medications, or other therapies)
- an exercise plan (to keep your pet mobile and reduce weight)
- a nutrition plan (to meet changing nutritional needs and ensure appropriate portions)
- dental care (to achieve or maintain optimal oral health)
- adjustments in your home (to meet changes with mobility)
Senior pets deserve special attention and care—they’ve been with us through good times and bad and need you to help them enjoy their final years as comfortably and pain-free as possible.