Featuring Dr. Janelle Walker, Best Friends Veterinary Medical Center
Generally speaking, dogs pack the equivalent of seven human years into every one of their own. Because dogs and cats age so quickly, they reach their “golden years” much sooner than their human companions — hitting eligibility for senior discounts around age seven. At that point the vet will begin watching more closely for age-related changes, and when detected, will adjust care or treatment in hopes of warding off more serious problems.
Aging usually affects, to some degree, an animal’s joints, teeth and bones, brain and other organ function. Older animals are more prone to diseases like cancer and diabetes, as well as diminished faculties like vision and hearing. And while advancing years don’t automatically bring problems, you and your vet should strive to “stay ahead of the game,” being watchful for and responsive to any concerns that may arise.
Exams should be more frequent for older dogs, even if they are apparently healthy and not experiencing problems. Generally, when cats are 9 and dogs are 7, we like to get some baseline diagnostics. Senior wellness tests evaluate overall function and how are they doing, and include a complete blood count, urine test and chemistry panel — checking electrolytes, blood pressure and for diabetes, and evaluating renal, liver and thyroid function. Your vet will also check your pet’s diet (needs change with age), supplements, and, if needed, non-steroidal medication. The doctor may also recommend certain exercises.
You can make environmental modifications in anticipation of changes, or as they occur. Many diseases and conditions are manageable, but it’s always best to be proactive, and being aware is the first line of prevention. Does rearranged furniture present a challenge, causing your baby to bump into a newly-positioned chair?
Slippery floors can be risky, and washable non-slip rugs are an easy fix that serve you both: putting your pup on sure feet, and you at ease about harmful falls. Also, make sure your older dog has more opportunities to go out to potty, and keep an eye on the doggie door: is he or she still going in and out easily and comfortably?
Sometimes just getting up takes a little more time and effort. There are many ways to help ease these types of age-related changes, like massage, TTouch and the like, modified food and exercise, and plain common sense (don’t move that chair).
Dr. Janelle Walker is a general practice veterinarian at Best Friends Veterinary Medical Center in Portland, OR. 503-892-6387