“He’s just old.”
“Well, she’s already 14 years old anyway, so what can we do?”
“What do you expect with a dog his age?”
If there was one idea that I want to counter more than anything else, it would be the idea of “just old.” One of my favorite professors in vet school liked to say that “age is not a disease,” and that’s a philosophy that I use to drive my practice and my approach to my patients.
Just like people, animals do face changes as they age, and even the best doctor in the world can’t turn back time, or turn your 16-year-old cat into a kitten again. But age, by itself, doesn’t cause pain or suffering, and there’s no reason for a beloved pet to suffer just because they’re old.
Being old doesn’t cause pain, or illness. Being old does make our pets more prone to other health problems, but there are also things that we as their caretakers can do to help treat those problems, or minimize their impact on our pet’s lives.
Older animals are very likely to have arthritis or joint disease – but that doesn’t mean they have to live in pain. There are medications we can use to help control their pain, changes we can make in their environment to make it easer for them to get around (yoga matts are great to avoid slipping; elevated food bowls can make eating easier; low-sided litter boxes can provide easier access for older kitties), additional treatments that can help mitigate pain (did you know that massage, acupuncture, laser therapy, and physical therapy are all available – and helpful – to pets as well as people?).
Older animals may have special nutritional needs. They may be missing teeth, or may not digest their food as well as a younger pet. Their sense of smell may not be as strong, making their food seem less appealing. But with the right diet, your pet can still eat well and enjoy their supper.
As pets age they may also face problems like kidney or liver disease, that can impact their quality of life. But even these conditions can be helped with supportive care, such as nutrition, hydration, anti-nausea medicine, and dietary supplements. Even if a family doesn’t want to pursue aggressive or invasive treatment for their pet, there are ways such as these to make them feel better without causing stress or trauma.
Aging pets face special challenges – but with the love of their family and the help of their veterinarian, there’s no reason to put up with discomfort, illness, or diminished quality of life just because he or she is “just old.”