The golden years are that wonderful time when your relationship with your pet is tried and true. You know each other’s strengths, weaknesses and quirks. You know Ginger can’t stand booties, but absolutely loves a good rub behind the ears. Ginger has learned that Sunday morning is not an early walk day, but that he can always get an extra treat if he tilts his head at just the right angle while he looks at you with his hopeful brown eyes.
Things are fine and dandy. You have a routine—but wait— Ginger seems to need the water dish filling more often or is slow to get out of bed now. A little more of this, less of that, a few lumps and bumps...
Hey, that happens with age, right? No big deal? We’ve all heard that dogs age seven years to our one year. That’s a pretty rough guide, and varies with size, but it works to remind us that our furry friends age more quickly than we do. So when Ginger is seven years old, it is actually more like 49 human years, or closer to 70 if he is a larger breed dog.
That slight change in routine of his—right, you almost forgot because it happened so slowly—well, that actually may be an early sign that something is wrong. Not ‘just old age’.
Aging is not a disease. We see many fit, healthy seniors in both the human and animal worlds. Disease, however, is more common with age. There are many changes in an aging pet that can be helped so that Ginger doesn’t become an ‘old timer.’ His teeth don’t have to be rotten and painful, accidents don’t have to be a new ‘fact of life,’ joint pain doesn’t have to leave Ginger sleeping more or slowing down on walks. There are many other examples of unnecessary changes in quality of life.
It would be quite unlikely in the human world that a senior would not need to see a doctor for three years, never mind the 7-10 human equivalent years that animal seniors often go between their wellness exams. That is why twice yearly exams for seniors are so important. These help to guide other important senior screening such as bloodwork and urinalysis to check aging organ function, heart screening for at-risk seniors, sampling lumps to rule out or diagnose cancer, assessing suitability and success of pain control and, of course, dental health. Early intervention can save and extend lives, as well as improve the quality of life.
The ‘golden age’ can really be golden with extra attention for subtle changes in your pet’s routine, and senior screening for non-visible changes. Our older furry family members do not need to suffer quietly through the changes that old age can bring. Remember that old age is not a disease and we can help to keep Ginger being Ginger longer.
By the way, that question that you always ask yourself when Ginger is not responding when you call anymore, well, we can help you figure out whether Ginger is really deaf or whether he is just getting to be a stubborn old man!
Dr. Katharine North is a veterinarian at the North Peace Veterinary Clinic.