Monday, May 2, 2016

Area vet to discuss strategies in caring for older pets at free event in Ann Arbor

Our companion animals are living longer, more full lives, and that's due to a few things: advances in medical care, nutrition, and no doubt a better understanding of their emotional needs. 

Dr. Alexander with a senior patient
But that doesn't mean that because a pet has been lucky enough to make it to their double-digit birthdays that we can slow up our pace of diligence when it comes to their needs. In fact, we need to step it up a bit. 

"It might be easy to dismiss them as old," says Dr. Lyssa Alexander, DVM. 

"But there's much that can be done today to help senior pets live longer, more comfortable lives."

And that's something that Alexander, who, along with Dr. Holly Zechar, DVM strives for at All Creatures Animal Clinic in Ann Arbor. In fact, it's a topic that Alexander will be discussing at a talk at Pet People —  located at 3330 Washtenaw Avenue in Ann Arbor — later this month. The pet supply store expressed interest in hosting some lectures for pet owners to attend. So, that, coupled with the clinic's enthusiasm for being involved in educating the community, was a perfect fit. This is the second talk that Alexander has facilitated at the store. The first addressed inappropriate elimination with cats. 

It can be a challenge for pet owners to understand the changes that invariably occur over time. As Alexander tells it, one of the biggest issues that she sees can be, well, complicated. 

"Pets are often suffering from multiple disease processes, and it's not unusual to see  4-5 major issues. A pet might have something like chronic ear infections, but then arthritis and kidney failure are things that might be going on as well."

The key, as the doctor details, is to pay attention to everything that is going on but view the body and spirit as a whole, keep things in perspective and most importantly understand, 'What can we do for them?'

Other common issues that a companion animal may be be living with are cognitive dysfunction, chronic organ disease (the liver and kidneys are most notable) and cancer.

Alexander fleshed out another hurdle that senior pets face. 

"I see people who don't respect the fact that a pet is old, and have expectations that exceed what the pet is capable of." 

Understanding a pet's limitations — whether they're physical, mental or emotional — is the key in their overall comfort and longevity. Nevertheless, just because a pet isn't as able to get around or their vision or hearing may be somewhat diminished, it doesn't mean that their capacity to enjoy life and be connected to their surroundings needs to be. They just need go about doing so differently. And that's where their humans can help. 

"For cats, it may as simple as finding ways to keep them being able to access a window perch," says Alexander. 

With any species, she notes that "there's really good research that, just as with people, cognitive function can be enhanced with mental stimulation and enrichment."

A big part of that can be something as simple as making an effort to seek out our pets to interact and include them in our day to day activities as much as possible. And that can mean something as simple as inviting them to sit next to us on the couch as we read or watch television. Finding novel ways to interact, like with new games or a new twist on an old favorite can be a boost, too. 

It's not unusual for a senior pets senses to be dulled, and that extends beyond sight and hearing: appetite can be affected by a diminished sense of taste, and that's another facet of aging that will be addressed at the talk. 

Chronic kidney disease is something that many senior cats experience, and Alexander plans to touch on common approaches that can enhance a cat's well-being and are easy to do at home, like subcutaneous fluids. 

Attendees will of course have an opportunity to ask questions — something that's encouraged — with a Q&A session. 

Alexander points out that it's important for pet owners to remember that "'s very individual. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to pets and their senior years."

It's often a long and crooked line from a companion animal's segue into their senior years to end-of-life, and Alexander expressed how despite being mindful of all that happens in between, euthanasia is as important to discuss. 

"People feel so much of a burden when it comes to end-of-life. I talk about euthanasia long before the necessity is there. If it's done right, the process of euthanasia can be peaceful and comfortable."

The event at Pet People titled, How to Care for Older Pets is scheduled for Wednesday May 18, 2016 at 7:00PM. Admission is free, but space is limited so those interested in attending are asked to please RSVP by calling 734-677-6922.

Click here for more information.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

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