San Antonio vets discuss treatment for old pets
Karen Williams cares for seven cats at her North Central San Antonio home, including three senior pets — two with leukemia and another with dementia and partial blindness. “It takes time, effort and money,” she says of caring for older pets. “It’s work, but you love them, so you take care of them.” Eleven-year-old Milo and 12-year-old Pico undergo chemotherapy every four to six weeks at highly rated Alamo Feline Health Center in North San Antonio, which costs about $300 each session. “My vet is on my speed dial,” says Williams, whose 15-year-old cat, Shadow, suffers from seizures and doesn’t always see her food or litter box. “I rely on them to tell me what’s to be expected.”
Vets say proper diet and exercise and regular checkups can help prevent diseases as pets age or catch them in early, treatable stages. “It’s fun from a doctor’s standpoint to do preventive care, and if we do find things, we can intervene before they’re really sick,” says Alamo veterinarian Dr. Jen Olson.
Use these tips to help monitor the health of your aging pet:
• Bring your senior animal in for a biannual exam.
• Beware of behavior changes — avoiding favorite activities might indicate illness.
• Monitor movement, as limping or losing jumping ability can be a symptom of arthritis.
• Watch for weight gain in dogs and weight loss in cats.
• Keep water accessible for older cats, who may not walk as far to drink and become dehydrated.
Highly rated providers may suggest twice yearly exams for cats and dogs ages 7 and older and guide owners on how to keep their companions healthy. “[Pets] age faster than we do, and a lot can change in a year,” Olson says, noting an annual exam at Alamo costs about $57. “We can check body weight, look for lumps and bumps, and talk to owners about behavior.” At age 10 or older, tests such as an EKG for cats or blood analysis in cats and dogs can detect problem areas such as heart, kidney or liver disease early.
Since pets can’t talk, vets say that behavior changes or symptoms such as weight fluctuation, vomiting, bathroom accidents, stiffness and decreased mobility or a lack of interest in once-favorite activities may portend age-related illness. Moving food dishes, adding steps next to couches or buying a litter box with lower sides might solve some problems, but others could require medical care.
Discuss treatment changes
Heartworm pills and vaccinations set animals up for healthy, long lives, but needs may change as pets age, says Dr. D’Lynn Thompson of highly rated La Cantar Animal Hospital, which treats cats and dogs in Northwest San Antonio. As dogs grow older, she warns that side effects from some vaccines can become more harmful than good. For example, a 13-year-old dog has little chance of developing parvo and might not need that vaccine, and a three-year rabies shot might be better than a one-year shot, she says. “Take up the vaccination question with your individual vet,” Thompson says. “People need to educate themselves, and talk to their vet about risk versus benefits.”
Before Melinda Brent’s 10-year-old dog Theodore passed away, she took him to Dr. Kenneth Kirlin at highly rated Eagle Veterinary Hospital in Olmos Park. “Dr. Kirlin was very attentive to the things that commonly develop in elderly dogs, including heart problems and tooth problems and was able to guide me in selecting good food for Theodore, something that was especially important after a pancreatitis episode,” says the North Central San Antonio member.
Cats and dogs should consume quality food, and owners should talk to their vets about the best brands, Thompson says, noting dogs need daily exercise and cats will drink more water if the bowl is placed near their hangout spots. “Feed a good quality diet, not the cheaper foods,” she says, adding that less expensive food contains unhealthy fillers not appropriate for aging pets’ diets. “They’re cheap for a reason. Older dogs become obese, and cats become too skinny.” Older cats that don’t get enough protein lose muscle, while dogs that continue to eat the same amount as they become less active put on weight, she says.
Sue Webster closely monitors the diet and activity levels of Lady, her 11-year-old dog who suffers from chronic back pain and a sensitive stomach. When Lady shows symptoms like slow movement and frequent burping, it sets off alarm bells for the Northwest San Antonio member, who brings her pet to Thompson for laser treatments and acupuncture that cost $40 to $50 per session. “I think it’s more effective and takes effect quicker than meds,” says Webster, who also feeds Lady a probiotic and a supplement to keep stomach problems at bay.
Medication may help some older pets with common ailments, such as thyroid problems, Thompson says. Prescriptions aimed at treating thyroid problems in dogs cost $10 to $30 per month, and cats about $80. Cats can also undergo a one-time $1,500 radioactive iodine therapy that eradicates hyperthyroidism. For arthritis, another common ailment affecting senior pets, treatment options range from $15 to $200 a month, and include glucosamine or fatty acid supplements, laser treatments, acupuncture, physical rehabilitation, and a variety of oral and injectable medicines.
Thompson says the key to maintaining good health in senior pets is observant owners. “Don’t chalk up changes to ‘he’s getting older,’” she says. “Be on the lookout for any differences in behavior or health as your pet ages and don’t wait to bring them up with a doctor. “Talk about the changes to your vet and treat it now before it gets bad.”