Ask a Vet

Q: Is my pet in pain or just getting older?

A: I was speaking to a friend, and was surprised to learn that their elderly cat was stiff in the morning, didn’t jump anymore, was eating less, drinking more, but yet they attributed all these signs to just getting older and they didn’t want to put him through anything but just keep him comfortable in his golden years. Those signs immediately made me think of some possible diseases, but also definitely chronic pain. Geriatric pets may be less active, but getting old must be differentiated from being in pain or developing another medical problem. Causes of chronic pain are varied but may include degenerative joint disease, dental and gum disease, neoplasia, interstitial cystitis, dermatitis, and chronic wounds.

Signs of chronic pain attributed to normal aging include increased sleeping; decreased jumping, climbing, or overall activity; aggression/other changes in behavior, urinating out of the litter box, decreased appetite, weight loss, disinterest in normal activities, and reluctance to be petted. One cause of chronic pain is arthritis. Degenerative joint disease (DJD) affects numerous (predominantly older) pets and, if untreated, has been associated with long-term pain and poor quality of life. Our loving pets have made it to old age, it is important to offer them the best quality of life during that part of their lives.

Yearly exams are important to detect conditions early and ensure that if treatment is required, it can be instituted as early as possible – for the purposes of increasing life span but also to ensure the time they have is of quality and is comfortable. For example, at our clinic we offer many options for chronic conditions in older pets, from supplements and nutraceuticals, nutritional management, acupuncture to pharmaceutical pain control. If you have an older pet and you are unsure if they are just getting older, please see your veterinarian to see what your options are to ensure your pet is happy, healthy, and comfortable.

Dr. Kelti Kachur, Delton Veterinary Hospital. Board member of the Edmonton Association of Small Animal Veterinarians, Volunteer Veterinarian, Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Edmonton.