We live in a society that is changing, with seniors making up a larger part of the population every day, and the same is true for our pet community. Better foods and supplements, better health care, and more emphasis on exercise has led to longer healthier lives for our animals. Add to that the extraordinary measures we now employ to extend our pets lives, and we’re seeing a large portion of the pet community in the senior range.
One of the biggest factors in extending pets lives is the foods we use. Nutritional products available today are better than they have ever been, and our animals are benefitting from that. But sometimes these products can actually hurt certain pets if not used appropriately. “Senior” foods are generally designed with a lower fat level and calorie count than a regular formulation. These are to compensate for the lower activity levels of older animals, which can be appropriate in most cases. But in some cases, low fat, low calorie diets can actually harm a pet. Just like people, some need more calories either because they eat less or their systems have a harder time getting nutrition out of their food.
In people, we would give them Ensure or Boost to increase their nutrition. For pets, keeping them on a regular adult food may be enough, but in extreme cases, if the pet is having a problem maintaining weight, a puppy food can work great. And if they don’t seem interested in eating, you can stimulate their appetite with either canned or frozen raw foods added to their kibble or used instead of kibble.
Longer life spans means dealing with pet health issues our parents didn’t have to deal with. It used to be that when a pet got old and sick, the decision to have them put down was pretty easy. Now we’re faced with decisions about treatment options that weren’t available before. Chemotherapy, surgeries and medications can extend pets lives. And we’re left to make the decision of when to make the call, when it is time to say goodbye.
For all the wonderful time we spend with our companion animals, the end can be the most difficult part, making that decision between extending life through heroic means and letting go. For me, quality of life has to be the deciding factor. If extending life comes at a cost of pain for the animal, is it worth it? If the animal can’t enjoy its life, or doesn’t even know it is there, should we keep them around or should we let them go? An animal can’t sign a DNR order, we have to make that decision for them.
I’ve had to deal with this twice in my life. My first dog, DeeDee, had multiple tumours. Chemo and surgery could have extended her life. But her faculties had diminished to the point that she was barking at nothing, was not aware of what was going on around her, and she was in pain. The decision was both one of the most difficult I’ve had to make, and yet a very easy one. I didn’t want her to suffer any more, but I made sure we were there at the end to see her off, she passed in my arms.
Now, our Zoe is suffering from congestive heart disease. One minute she’s doing great, the next, she can’t catch her breath. With her meds balanced, she has been having more good days than bad, but we know this won’t last forever. When the time comes, we will make the decision based on what is best for Zoe, so that she will not suffer just so we can have her with us. She’s been too good a friend to let her suffer.