My experience providing hospice services in my mobile practice has helped me think differently about the care a pet gets years before.
For example, while we are cautious about anesthesia in older dogs and cats and may be tempted to put off a teeth cleaning in a senior pet, the truth is - bad teeth only get worse!
No one wants their pet to suffer, but understanding the signs of suffering - often caused by pain - requires careful observation. Animals instinctively hide signs of pain because, if you think about it, their wild ancestors were at a severe disadvantage if they showed weakness to their pack or their predators.
Learning to recognize pain in our pets becomes even more important as they grow older. Technically speaking, age is not a disease and age doesn't cause an animal to be less active or create changes their behavior, however age-related changes in their bodies can. Arthritis is very common in older animals and although it might start with Monday morning stiffness after a weekend of exercise, over the years it can become chronic (read: constant) pain in the hips, knees, back and neck. (sound familiar?) Very often the changes our pets go through are so gradual that we have trouble recognizing them.
Some signs are pretty straightforward, like crying, whimpering, growling in reaction to pain. Limping is always a clear sign of pain, even if your pet has been doing it for a while. But did you know that when a dog paces, it often means either it hurts to lie down or doing so may make it harder to breath. Another common situation is an older dog begins snapping at you or other family members. This often means she is afraid your touch will create more pain.
There are other, less obvious signs that should signal to us that your pet is saying, "I don't feel good!"
You've said you don't want your pet to suffer; there is no reason your pet should have to and no excuse for allowing the pain to continue.
Mary Craig, DVM, MBA
Dr Craig is a mobile veterinarian with a house call practice focused on end-of-life care.