By Elise Oberliesen for Northern Colorado Life

We love our pets—they’re family. Keep the slobbery kisses, tail wags and endless purring coming. Since our fur babies brighten our world so much, it’s important to dole out extra TLC as their muzzle grays and bone frailty sets in. Hereare ways to improve your pet’s quality of life as they enter the golden years.

As pets age, it’s difficult to know when they experience pain, says Stephanie Buchholtz, DVM, founder of Cat Doctor, a feline-focused vet practice in Johnstown, CO. Thanks to a cat’s standoffish personality, it may require detective-like skills to pin-point their pain. “Cats are especially good at hiding their pain.”

Plus, many people do not realize that arthritis in cats goes unrecognized, she said. Why? Because when cats head outdoors for playtime, they go solo. So you don’t necessarily see them lose that spring in their step. But with dogs on leash, it’s a shared human to pet exercise experience more easily detected.

Dr. Buccholtz suggests watching for behavior and posture changes in your cat if you suspect arthritis. Watch for changes from jumping to how they take the stairs.

“Sometimes cats take a break before going up the stairs. Or they go up the stairs sideways if one side is more arthritic, because it will take initial strain off the uncomfortable leg.”

While a kitten is known for bouncing from couch to chair to countertop with razor speed—Ms. senior kitty takes her sweet old time positioning those paws as she calculates a leisurely decent.

“With arthritis in front legs, cats lean over the edge and put their front legs further down the structure before they jump. It helps minimize impact,” Dr. Buccholtz said.


Caring for sick pets

If you’ve ever experienced a pet going through cancer, then you know how that story usually ends. With more aggressive cancers, their lifespan if often rapidly cut short, said Tara Britt, VMD, DACVS, who specializes in oncology, at Four Seasons Veterinary Specialists, in Loveland.

Luckily, not all cancers grow that quickly.

“There are so many types of cancers dogs and cats get and many have a good prognosis if they are treated early. With certain skin tumors, if we diagnose early and obtain wide surgical margins, they can be cured,” she said.

To target wide surgical margins, she said it includes not only cutting out the cancerous mass but also the surrounding healthy tissue. “With healthy tissue remaining, depending on tumor grade, we may have a good prognosis.”

Sometimes a bout of vomiting and diarrhea is normal for cats and dogs, she said. Perhaps your fluffy feline coughs up hairballs from incessant licking. Still, it’s difficult for the layperson to know the precise cause. “Increased licking could be an underlying skin infection or anxiety. It’s good to talk to a vet if you see those behaviors. Then look for underlying causes to rule out something more serious.”

Watch for frequency of symptoms and notice behavioral changes, Dr. Britt said. If you suspect something more serious, a trip to the vet helps rule out serious medical conditions. “Screening blood work, chest and abdominal x-rays, or abdominal ultrasound can look for underlying causes of the vomiting or diarrhea.”

Opting for supplements

Maybe you’re curious about adding a supplement to your pet’s diet. Pet supplements are experiencing explosive growth. According to one website, 48 percent of U.S. pet owners bought cannabidiol treats or chews and 27 percent purchased the oils, in 2019.

While CBD is one of the more popular kids on the block for garden variety symptoms, keep in mind, CBD is not a cure and oft comes with mixed reviews, say experts.

Dr. Britt said it’s exciting to watch emerging research around CBD treatments with pets, but it’s still too early to offer answers since it’s not yet FDA regulated. She’s curious about the efficacy of CBD use to ease anxiety in pets. She’s keeping a close watch on new scientific evidence.

Jackie Good, events and promotions coordinator, with Poudre Pet & Feed Supply, which operates six stores in Northern Colorado, sees more pet parents turning to CBD for a variety of their animals’ ailments. “With dogs and cats, we mostly sell CBD for its calming effects and to help with joint problems.”

Good warns that fussy felines may not love the stuff. After all, these creatures are known for turning their noses at even the finest of pate. “[With CBD] Cats are harder because of palatability issues and the dosage gets harder.”

Good experimented with a combination of CBD plus a chondroitin glucosamine supplement on her Great Dane. She observed some mobility improvement, she said. Opt for higher quality supplements, suggests Dr. Buccholtz.

“For it to be bioavailable, there’s a process by which high quality chondroitin is manufactured so that it can be bioavailable. Beware when the costs are too good to be true.”

Minding the scale

For pets and humans alike, too much food often leads to an uptick on the scale and certain health risks, Dr. Buccholtz said. “Overweight animals are more likely to have arthritis because it increases wear and tear on their joints.”

Good sells a variety of senior pet foods lower in calories which helps the furies keep a trimmer waistline. “A lot of animals are obese and an extra pound on a dog is like five pounds on a human. Especially in senior years, maintaining a healthy weight is important because overweight can lead to diabetes, joint pain, and heart issues.”

Should your pets struggle to jump up on the furniture or into the car, stairs and ramps come in handy, Good said. “Ramps are important because the stress of getting in and out of vehicles. Because you can risk them not making it and they’re more prone to falling and hurting themselves.”

Ramps cost from $60 to $135. Choose from fold down ramps or a telescoping style that pulls out and slides in, she said.