Caring for Our Aging Companions

Aging is an inevitable consequence of life, true for us humans as it is for our companions. With the aging process, there are physical changes that can affect many body systems some are preventable to some degree while others are less so. I would like to discuss here the aging process specifically in reference to canines and felines.

Does 1 Year In a Human Equal 7 in a Dog?

Almost all of us have heard the statement that a year in a human’s life is equivalent to seven years for a dog or cat. I submit to you that this is not a true generalization. First of all, the aging process is not linear. As our companions get older, the physical and metabolic changes within their bodies are quicker to progress. In other words, the differences between a dog going from one year old to two is far less dramatic than that same dog going from ten years old to eleven. Actually, the same is true in humans.

Another important consideration in the aging process, especially concerning our canine companions, is the breed of dog. The large breed and giant breed dogs age faster than do the smaller breeds. This means that a Great Dane is considered a geriatric patient after about five years of age whereas a toy poodle would not share that geriatric label until more like nine or ten years of age. Of course, these are not cast in stone rules for age classification but instead are guidelines we use to dictate how we might approach each patient in reference to their specific wellness care needs.

Caring for Older Pets

One thing to keep in mind concerning age is that old age, a relative term as discussed, is not a disease. I often hear clients mention their companion is “slowing down” in his or her old age. Yes, the aging process does lead to less activity; however, it is never best to assume your dog or cat is “slowing down” simply because of increased age. Always err on the side of caution and have them examined by your veterinarian on an annual basis or semiannual in the case of more advanced age.

I recommend that my geriatric dog and cat patients have a thorough workup including blood work and radiographs along with a thorough physical examination. The information provided from these procedures gives us a way to “see” what is happening on the “inside” of our patients. The blood work will check for liver function and enzyme levels, kidney function, electrolyte levels, glucose (blood sugar) levels and more. Radiographs are literally a way to look inside, providing a picture of the heart, lungs, liver, spleen, kidneys, stomach, large and small intestine. You get the picture, no pun intended. These films can also give us a chance to evaluate for evidence of arthritis, which we approach by helping the patient be more comfortable.

Importance of Preventative Care

There have been so many cases where I have been able to diagnose a problem that would otherwise be fatal and instead I was able to cure the problem, thanks to this type of wellness care approach to our older companions. This has been the case recently with Duke, a nine-year-old golden retriever that was in for his annual physical exam and work up. We discovered on his radiographs that there was a mass on his spleen. His blood work showed evidence of hemorrhage (bleeding) internally. We took him immediately to surgery, removing his spleen and the baseball-sized tumor within. We sent him home the next morning happy as always and later found out the good news on his biopsy report that his tumor was benign.

Duke’s case is but one of so many examples of a proactive approach to our older companions’ health care, proving its worth in early detection of a disease process. While preventative medicine is important for any companion at any age, it becomes especially important as our companions get older.    

For more information about preventative care for your companions, contact us at 209-527-5855.

Read more on aging in pets.

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posted in:  Canine  |  Diet/nutrition  |  Feline