Aging Isn't a Disease, It's Normal
Dr. Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ
Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. Find him online at www.DrPhilZeltzman.com. He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (www.WalkaHound.com).
Common questions I hear from clients include "Is he too old for this surgery?" and "Do you think it's worth it to her because of her age?" Invariably, and with a smile, my answer is "Age is not a disease." This answer is more serious than it sounds (My "mature" clients actually love that quote!). Cancer, kidney malfunction, a hormone imbalance -- those are diseases, which can be treated. But age in and of itself is not a disease.
Granted, organs do deteriorate as a dog or a cat ages. This is why we do a physical exam and recommend full blood work and a urinalysis before anesthesia and surgery. We routinely see older pets with normal kidney function, normal liver function, normal red blood cell counts, normal everything. If one or several values are abnormal, we need to know before anesthesia and surgery, because we may change a few things.
For example, abnormally high kidney values may mean that a pet will be on IV fluids before anesthesia can be undertaken safely. We may also choose different anesthesia drugs and different pain killers after surgery if the bloodwork is worrisome.
In other words, it may be much safer to anesthetize a healthy 12 year old patient with normal blood work than a sick 5 year old with kidney or liver disease. This is the difference between a pet’s actual age and the “functional” age, which takes into account all health factors and not only the age. Age (actual age) is merely a number. Health (functional age) is what we should focus on.
Another common question I hear is "How old do (insert breed) get?" Books and web sites give us the answer to that tricky question. Yet those numbers are merely averages. It means that some pets live less, and some pets live longer. Just like in people, how long a pet will live is a guessing game at best. And sure enough, vets often see dogs and cats who beat the published averages.
Pets do live longer and longer, thanks to better vaccines, better drugs, better diets, better surgeries, better dental care... and above all more dedicated pet owners. After all, over the years, most pets progressively moved from the barn, to the back yard, to the mud room, to the living room, and now to the bedroom!
Here is the bottom line: When the physical exam and blood work are fairly normal, the pet is in overall good health, and has a fixable problem, I tend to believe that this pet is a good candidate for anesthesia and surgery.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Rebekah Mack, DACVIM-SAIM
Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM, DACVIM
Dog Checkups & Preventive CareHas your Yorkshire terrier transitioned into his teens? Is the hair on your golden retriever’s muzzle now a lovely shade of gray? If so, it’s likely that some medical issues have accompanied your dog’s aging process. Examples include:
1. Learn as much as possible
When a new medication is prescribed for your dog, talk with your veterinarian to gather answers to the following questions:
2. Read the label
The prescription label often contains useful information intended to ensure that the medication works well. Read the label carefully to find instructions such as:
3. Get the help you need to achieve compliance
Some dogs are real stinkers when it comes to sitting still for eye drops or swallowing a bitter tasting pill. Rely on your veterinary staff members to provide you with their tricks of the trade. Often, a simple suggestion can dramatically reduce the amount of “medication stress” for you and your dog.
4. Play by the rules
It is in your dog’s best interest to give medications exactly as prescribed. If doing so isn’t feasible because of your schedule or simply doesn’t feel like the right thing to do, rather than skipping dosages or discontinuing treatment, have a frank discussion with your veterinarian. Almost always there will be other options to consider.
Keep in mind that, in addition to authorizing refills for your dog’s medications, your veterinarian is juggling a whole host of other job responsibilities. For this reason, don’t wait until you are down to the last pill to request a refill. Provide at least two to three days notice.
6. Double check refills
Accurately filling a prescription requires several steps:
7. Set up a system
If you are giving multiple medications to your senior dog, it makes good sense to create a system that prevents missed doses or double dosing. Such goofs are easy to make, particularly when more than one person in the household is responsible for administering medications. Use of a chart that can be checked off when medications are given or a pill organizer (the plastic box with individual compartments) can cut down on dosing errors.
8. Online pharmacies
Purchasing prescription drugs online comes with its pluses (cost and convenience) and minuses (potential for incorrect formulation, improper storage, dosage inconsistencies). If you are interested in purchasing your dog’s medications online, talk about this with your veterinarian and ask for a recommendation for a reputable company.
9. Air travel
If you and your dog travel by plane, be sure to keep his medications with your personal belongings, in the cabin, rather than in the baggage compartment. Otherwise, a lost suitcase can translate into a huge hassle trying to refill medications on the fly.
10. Biannual exams
Any dog who has achieved the rank of “senior citizen” is well served by a veterinary exam at least twice a year. This is particularly true for dogs receiving medications. The office visit provides an opportunity to discuss how the drugs are working and how well they are being tolerated. Blood testing can gauge the effectiveness of some medications as well as screen for harmful side effects. Lastly, a significant change in your dog’s body weight may warrant a dosage change in his medication.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.