Geriatric Pets

The Hard Decision

My dog, Scooby, will be 16 years old in July.  By all appearances, Scooby is a happy senior pup; he’s got skin issues and some gross warts, but he seems bright and alert.  So why am I having quality of life discussions with his vet?

If a stranger looks at him, they don’t know what those close to him do.  They don’t recognize the slow deterioration of his mental state or see the subtle changes in his walk.  There are obvious signs of health issues: his back-end shakes and every once in awhile he stumbles.  I watch the little changes in Scooby and justify them.  “It’s colder today than yesterday, that’s why he’s shaking more.”  Or, “oh, those are just normal signs of age.”  I don’t want to accept that Scoo can’t live as long as I do.  He’s my family and I don’t want to think about the day when I’ll have to say, “goodbye.”

Scoos last picture.jpg

As a member of an incredible animal clinic, I remind myself of the candle we use when a client has made this painful decision.  I think of words I say more than I’d like: this is the most difficult but loving thing you can do for your pet.  When my girlfriend and I walked into the exam room and discussed quality of life with his veterinarian, I repeated those words.  We had no intention of euthanizing Scooby that day or even that month, but we needed to be prepared.  Even as a member of a medical team, I needed an objective point of view.  My partner and I needed to be able to tell a professional our observations and concerns so we could be prepared.  In Scooby’s case, when do we know he’s in pain (and his medications are no longer working)?  Are there specific signs that might tell us we’re dealing with an emergency?  We discussed the details/process of the euthanasia itself.

During the appointment, our veterinarian said something very important.  She told us that she supported us and our decision.  In that moment, I snapped out of client and into medical professional.  I wondered how many clients worry about what we think.  I thought of all the clients who say they don’t know how we do our jobs.  And I remembered the situations when we had no relationship with a pet and had to examine it first.  What must go on in our clients minds?  I want to tell you what my veterinarian told us: we support you.  We are always going to be advocates for the animal first and foremost— that is why we are in this profession.  But through the laughter and tears, we’ll be by your side.

If you or someone you know is preparing for your dog or cat’s end of life, we have resources available:

·       Quality of Life 

·       WSU Grief and Loss

And for those of you who ask how we do our jobs: there are certainly cases and days when these appointments are overwhelming.  We need each other, our loved ones, or a distraction to help us afterward; but we can do it because when we chose to get into this field, we agreed to protect and heal animals through all stages of their lives.  This is one of the most profound stages and we owe it to the pet (and you) to protect them from pain and heal them one last time.

Jordan Bair

Client Services Representative, Marketing Assistant


How Do You Say “It Hurts” If You Can’t Talk?

Molly was a beautiful Yellow Lab that loved to run and play with her family. But when her owner brought her into the clinic, she was barely able to move. Every step, every movement hurt and she coped by refusing to move. Her veterinarian diagnosed severe arthritis. Molly’s joints were so inflamed that she felt nothing but hurt.

In spite of the best medical care, Molly’s spirit was declining. She had stopped eating and would lie in her kennel looking at me with the saddest eyes. She appeared ready to give up, but her medical team was not. We knew that if Molly was to recover, we had to break her pain cycle.

Veterinary medicine has a legal and ethical obligation to err on the side of the safest treatment, but sometimes the best medicine is not found in books but in a clinician’s heart. Molly’s doctor listened to his patient and put her on a course of the strongest pain medication available to veterinary medicine.

I left our hospital that night broken hearted, not knowing how I would find Molly in the morning. You can imagine the joy I felt when I walked into the hospital and saw Molly prancing in her kennel, eager to go for a walk after eating a good breakfast. She had finally stopped hurting and the spark had returned to her eyes. She went home the next day on a new pain management protocol and continued to improve. While she will never be as active as before, she loves life again and that’s the best result ever!

Animals suffer from pain just like we do, but they say “Ouch” in very different ways. The sooner that pain is recognized and treated, the more likely our pets can return to a good quality of life. As loving caretakers of our family pets, we can learn animals’ unique language of pain and trust our instincts when we see behavior that says our pet is in pain. All pain damages your pet’s quality of life and can be hazardous to its health. Pain causes release of stress hormones, delaying healing and possibly damaging your pet’s internal organs, especially in cases of long-term chronic pain.

Common Signs of Pain in Dogs

  • Decreased social interaction
  • Anxious expression
  • Refusal to move; difficulty rising from a sitting or lying down position
  • Whimpering
  • Howling
  • Growling
  • Guarding behavior
  • Aggression; biting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Self-mutilation (chewing)


Common Signs of Pain in Cats

  • Hiding
  • Reduced activity
  • Loss of appetite
  • Quiet/loss of curiosity
  • Changes in urination/defecation habits
  • Hissing or spitting
  • Lack of agility/jumping
  • Excessive licking/grooming
  • Stiff posture/gait
  • Stops grooming/matted fur
  • Weight loss

The good news is that veterinary medicine has many ways to alleviate your pet’s pain.

Once your doctor has diagnosed what’s causing the pain, he or she can prescribe the best medication and the best treatment to reduce that pain. Your pet also may benefit from physical modalities such as acupuncture, laser treatment, medical massage and therapeutic exercise.

Early and aggressive treatment of a pet’s pain can return your furry family member to a great quality of life.

Read Dr. Kraabel's blog to learn more about Gwen: And, Not To Be OutDone

Gwen Francisco, Licensed Veterinary Technician, Certified Veterinary Pain Practitioner

Geriatric Pets

Geriatric Pets Are The Best


What's better than getting a new puppy or kitten?  Those little eyes, the tiny mews or adorable woofs.  I believe that the Seattle scene is tending in a different--and in my opinion, a better--direction.  Shelters have encouraged, rescues have pleaded, and people are now open to adopting adult animals.    

However, one demographic is all too often forgotten or overlooked:  the geriatrics; the very old;  the ones who are going to come with medications and maybe some accidents around the house.  And  whose time with us is promised to be short.  We in the veterinary field always hope for the best when someone adopts an animal: that this adoption is a promise to care for this loved one for the rest of his or her life; that the family will be there in the end, with promises of the rainbow bridge and that one day they will meet again. But what happens when that promise cannot be kept?  What happens when forces that cannot be controlled by the owner or the pet force a hard decision?

The cat in these pictures is Marmalade, though around these parts she is known lovingly as "Marm.”  She is the quintessential old lady.  Her meow is course and grating and much louder than it needs to be, and there is never any doubt in anyone's mind what she's saying, “Get off my porch.”  I adopted  Marm when she was 17 years old.  She was given to the local Animal Shelter with a heartbreaking story: the elderly owner could no longer live on her own and needed to go to a hospice   that did not allow pets.  Who can imagine being taken away from a beloved pet after so many years?  And the future of a 17 year old cat on thyroid medications in a shelter is not hard to imagine.  When there are so many young healthy animals needing homes, who would want her?

Cue the sap: a technician who has spent her career loving geriatrics.  Why do I always adopt these animals?  What draws me to love the elderly beasties?  Who can say?  I've always thought they were like kittens and puppies in regards to care: sure they need some extra attention here and there when it comes to clean up.  They have stomach issues that cause vomiting and occasional accidents.  But they come with wonderful old souls!  The personality!  They come with a whole arsenal of tricks and quirks.  So, I offered Marm a home.

One of the difficult things we see here at Lien is owners adjusting to changes in their animals as they get older.  This seems especially true for cats.  Many people are concerned that their cat is hiding more, or has been scratching or growling at people when it never did so before.  It is so important to have your veterinarian examine older cats  to see if they have very common geriatric issues such as hyperthyroidism, a disease that will make them feel like they are constantly coming off of a very bad caffeine crash! Or they may have arthritis, which can be managed very well with medications that can even be purchased as tasty treats though compounding pharmacies.  In case you’re wondering, Marm is on medications for both of these conditions and she is much more comfortable today than when I adopted her.  

Changes happen in older pets, but much like people, they can be kept comfortable with the right combination of medications or food and informed understanding from owners.  I hope that the more people understand their geriatric pets and their issues, the fewer of these old ladies and gentlemen we will see in the shelter system.  

The biggest burden of owning a geriatric pet  isn’t the extra time or money or medication.  It comes with the countdown.  You are only given a short time with these beautiful creatures.  But after a year and three months of mutual TV watching, snuggling under covers at night, playing very slowly with catnip toys and letting her tell everyone she sees walk by the house to "get off her property," I can say with certainty that I wouldn't trade a second of the time spent with Marm for a young kitten.  She has been a joy in my life that no countdown can mar. This 18 years "young" cat just keeps getting better with age.

Kelsey Shurvinton, Lead Licensed Veterinary Technician