Veterinary associations offer guidelines on senior care

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With cats and dogs living longer, veterinarians spend more time on senior care—and associations are giving advice on how to prolong and improve pets' golden years.

The American Animal Hospital Association released Senior Care Guidelines for Dogs and Cats in 2005, and the American Association of Feline Practitioners has plans to update the Panel Report on Feline Senior Care in 2007.

The AAHA also offers client brochures on "Aging Pets" and "Senior Moments: Understanding Behavior Changes in Aging Pets," and the theme of the AAFP fall 2006 conference in Toronto will be geriatrics and pain management.

The AAHA guidelines provide advice on the approach for healthy senior pets, approach for unhealthy senior pets, conditions important in senior pets, laboratory tests, anesthesia and surgery, pain and distress, end-is-near issues, and end-of-life issues.

"They are not hard-and-fast rules on what needs to be done in every circumstance," said Dr. Michael Andrews, AAHA president and owner of Woodcrest Veterinary Clinic in Riverside, Calif.

He said veterinarians should individualize care for each senior pet. The guidelines promote frequent examinations as animals age.

"It's been shown from human medicine that promulgation of guidelines increases compliance with the recommendations that the professionals make to people," Dr. Andrews said.

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He said pets are living longer for the same reasons as people. Technology has provided prevention or treatments for many medical conditions. Pet owners also want animals to live longer, and they're willing to spend more money to maintain quality of life for aging animals—both for dogs and for cats.

The 1998 AAFP report on feline senior care includes sections on the physiology and pharmacology of aging, health care programs for senior cats, disease considerations, behavior problems, pain management, anesthesia, nutritional considerations, feeding considerations, dental care, and euthanasia.

"The most important message that we wanted to provide at the point that we wrote these guidelines is that age is not a disease," said Dr. Ilona Rodan, co-chair of the report and owner of the Cat Care Clinic in Madison, Wis. "We see a lot of cats in the realm of 12 to 18 years of age where they are apparently healthy or they have chronic conditions that are well-maintained."

Dr. Rodan said revisions to the report will incorporate new research. The next version also will probably address hospice care.

She said many of her clients will do whatever they can to maintain the quality of life of their senior cats.

"I see a well-bonded relationship," Dr. Rodan said. "People are connected to these cats. They have lived with them through the good and the bad. They are willing to do whatever it takes."

She said treating senior cats with multiple medical conditions requires a balancing act on the part of veterinarians. But veterinarians also bond with these senior cats that they see more frequently—and with the cats' owners.

The AAHA guidelines on senior care are available at The AAFP guidelines on senior care are at