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