As with our elderly humans, our geriatric patients experience a prevalence of chronic conditions and this is often associated with progressive loss of mobility.
Aging triggers changes in a wide variety of tissues and the severity of chronic diseases increase over time. Therefore, geriatric and arthritic patients have very specific medical and rehabilitation needs.
With the effects of aging, various aspects should be considered. These considerations should include medical and clinical history, common neurological and musculoskeletal conditions in the aging dog, pain management, nutritional considerations and general management of the elderly patients.
Effects in the aging dog, can be classified in two components:
Metabolic effects include decreased metabolic rate, decreased immune competence, decreased resistance to infections, possible onset of autoimmune diseases.
Physical effects include changes in body weight, skin elasticity, footpads and nails. Muscle, bone and cartilage mass are lost and possible onset of arthritis. Lungs lose elasticity, fibrosis occurs, and pulmonary secretions becomes more viscous. Decreases in cardiac output, pulmonary vital capacity, cough reflex and expiratory capacity diminishes and lastly the number of cells in the nervous system decreases.
Other factors affecting the older dog, in addition to chronological age, that are crucial to evaluate when prescribing appropriate rehabilitation plans include weight (obese and overweight dogs are more prone to additional complex conditions), existing diseases or physiological conditions, sensory deficits, musculoskeletal conditions, and abnormalities resulting in mobility and urinary incontinence issues, as well as neuromuscular, neurological, and cognitive deficits.
In the end, quality of life is what people want for their dogs, and this is something that we as veterinary physical rehabilitation therapists can help to provide. Aging should not be seen as a disease, but as a complex process that occurs at various levels, such as genomic, cellular, and organ level.
Because of the aging processes, and as the organ systems experiences decreased function and degeneration, geriatric and arthritic patients benefit greatly from veterinary physiotherapy, but requires a thorough assessment. We work closely with the owner and overseeing vet to deal with more complex treatments. Regular re-assessments and adjustments of the rehab program forms part of what might often be a long-term program and more than often in some cases results in palliative care.
In veterinary medicine, helping to recognize and manage the factors that may contribute to an animal’s aging process is an important role that the rehabilitation therapist should play as part of a patient’s health‐care team.
The rehabilitation therapist must understand the owner goals for the geriatric patient, to be able to determine whether the goals are possible to achieve, and how to best develop the rehabilitation plan to achieve these goals. A multimodal therapy plan including pain management is often necessary to allow the patient to achieve success.
Some visual signs for owners to look out for that might indicated that your senior companion is experiencing pain or discomfort are:
Abnormal sitting or lying posture; Circling multiple times before lying down; Restlessness; Whining, groaning or other vocalizations; Limping, unable to get up or lie down; Difficulty getting into car or down stairs; Lack of grooming; Won’t wag tail; Licking or biting area; Lack of appetite; Trembling.
There is a lot of literature available regarding the onset of cognitive disfunction and dog dementia and how you can assist your elderly companion to still be part of your family in a safe, secure and content manner.
At Paws-itive Paws-abilities, we have a special interest in our Geriatric Patients. Pain management will be the basis for our rehabilitation programs, and we work in close relationship with the pet owner and referring Vet.
Other aspects that plays a major roll in the care of our Geriatric and Arthritic Patients are medical conditions, an in-depth knowledge of common musculoskeletal and neurological conditions, maintaining quality of life, pain management, nutritional considerations and management of osteoarthritis.
Palliative and Hospice Care
Often, with the onset of age-related effects on the physical body and metabolic system, onset of dementia and cognitive disfunction, it doesn’t mean your pet can’t be part of your family anymore.
Palliative care is a great solution where pet parents often work a full day, an unplanned trip need to be taken, a family crisis happen, or your long awaited holiday arrives and you can’t take your elderly pet with you. In these cases, care is provided in a loving and caring environment.
Unfortunately, there comes a time in our elderly pets lives where the good days may be outnumbered by the not so good days. Should a person be faced with the inevitable decision, there in a questionnaire called “Quality of Life” assessment. This will assist the pet parent to make an informed, well guided decision.
At Paws-itive Paws-abilities, we cater for both Palliative and Hospice Care as well as the guidance through a Quality of Life Assessment.
We have a special interest and considerable empathy and sympathy towards our geriatric patients. Our hospital, day care and boarding facilities caters for all the needs that may be desired for a geriatric pet and our experience leads us to offer the best service when it comes to a well-designed, fully comprehensive care program.
When the time has come to make the final decision for a beloved pet to be euthanized, we will take care of the arrangements for our clients. We have along term relationship with a specific Vet who will come to our Practice and complete the process in our beautiful gardens in a tranquil, calm and serene environment. Owners are not rushed to say their final farewells and other family pets may come along for the needed support. Lastly, Pet Angels will assist with the final step of removing the body and in consultation with the pet parents, plan.
A final service being offered in this emotional time is Pet Bereavement. We have an affiliation with a qualified Bereavement Councilor as well as an Animal Communicator to ease the pain and heartache associated with Pet Loss.