Senior Pet Care

By September 14, 2018Blog

Helping senior pets feel younger

My own pet Captain is a great example of a dog enjoying a wonderful quality of life despite significant problems. He struggles to walk, occasionally has accidents in our home and is not as mentally sharp as he used to be, but still steals food from us, plays with his toys and and hogs the couch when we cuddle. Like the patients I see every day, he has a loving family that is happy to have tools like the following to support him as he ages.

Dr. Mara Ashby


dog obesity

In his Fat Elvis days Captain was both heavier and hairier

Is it age or excess weight that is slowing your senior pet down?

Can you feel your pet’s ribs? If not, weight loss may help his mobility and prevent disease. Seeing Fido or Fluffy acting more playful and jumping on the bed again is the best reward for months of careful portions.

Does your pet have the opposite problem, appearing thin with a prominent spine, hip bones and shoulder blades?  This can be caused by loss of muscle, a sign of disease if excessive, a normal effect of aging when gradual and mild.

If your cat or dog has not been diagnosed with any new health problems and is maintaining a healthy body condition, there is no need to change to a senior diet. As pets age, conditions like bladder stones may improve and new issues like kidney disease can develop requiring diet changes. Our team is trained in balancing the complex needs of senior pets, providing complimentary nutritional assessments to all of our patients.

dog physiotherapy peanut

Captain thinks core work on the peanut is hilarious

Pain Management

Using a variety of treatments is more likely to help and less likely to harm

Physiotherapy can be performed at home using easily accessible materials and in hospital using advanced equipment.  Although time consuming, physiotherapy is one of the most effective and inexpensive treatments for arthritis.  Learning to do exercises at home gives you a chance to contribute to your senior pet’s comfort.

Massage and laser therapy are used to reduce pain and increase range of motion in pets with arthritis. Supplements and diet are reviewed in partnership with our veterinarian and modifications to the home environment may be suggested to improve mobility at home.

Chiropractic care improves and maintains your pet’s overall well-being by treating spine and joint dysfunctions to reduce pain, improve mobility, decrease muscle tension and maintain spinal wellness. Aging pets have accumulated a lifetime of imbalances and benefit greatly from having regular adjustments.

Pain medications stop pain in a variety of ways and some work better for individual pets than others.  Using more than one pain medication reduces the dose required and the related risks. Supplements can reduce inflammation or support healthy joints and need to be treated with the same attention to quality and dose that we apply to pharmaceuticals to ensure they do no harm.

Dental Care

It is no fun snuggling with smelly breath

Captain still has a beautiful smile thanks to a life time of dental care

Dental disease causes pain and infections that shorten the lives of senior dogs. Families worry about anesthetizing older pets, not realizing that balanced general anesthesia is much safer than allowing untreated dental infections to damage their kidneys and heart.

Smelly breath and chalky tartar build up on teeth can be clues that bacteria are damaging your dog’s jaws and teeth.  Only a veterinarian can x-ray the teeth to look for disease and clean tartar below the gums.  We can help you do your part with tooth brushing and home care products to help maintain your pet’s dental health.


Aging pets can develop behaviour changes that make them harder to live with

DISHA is an easy way to remember the signs of senility or cognitive dysfunction syndrome, it stands for: Disorientation, Interaction changes, Sleep/wake disturbances, House soiling and Activity changes

Pets with mild to moderate signs can benefit from antioxidant supplements and enrichment with food puzzle toys and increased exercise.  More severely affected dogs may need sedatives to help them sleep at night and specific prescription medications. Cats with changes in behaviour as they age can also suffer from high blood pressure with howling at night being a common sign.

Captain’s food toy makes him less anxious

Anxiety during thunderstorms and fireworks and when left alone often worsens as pets age. Sedatives can be given at home and environmental modifications made to protect your pet while we work on a gradual program of desensitization to these triggers. A severely anxious pet may require long term medication to help them recover from their disease. 


Hospice care, cutely called Pawspice for animals, gives options to families with pets diagnosed with terminal disease. 

The HHHHHMM Quality of Life Scale is useful for ensuring we are preserving quality of life, not quantity during Pawspice Care.  The five H’s stand for:  Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene and Happiness.  The two M’s stand for:  Mobility and More good days than bad.

Dr Ashby and Captain outside Carriage Crossing Animal Hospital

Pets who receive Pawspice Care benefit from modifications to the home and comfort medications to improve quality of life. Pawspice begins once a diagnosis is obtained and supports pets and their families until we cannot maintain life quality and euthanasia is elected, or a natural death occurs.

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