The process of aging is an unfortunate side effect of life. This holds true for all living creatures, but there are mysteries associated with aging – including how fast it all takes place. Why for instance does a Galapagos tortoise live for 200 years while a field mouse only lives for 3? Even within the same species of animals, there can be wide variations in the rate of the aging process.
Which brings us to this week’s question. Ellen from Modesto takes care of Rondo, a 9-year-old Labrador retriever and Petunia, a 12-year-old silky terrier. Both of Ellen’s companions are doing just fine, although Ellen does notice a big difference in activity between the two dogs. Rondo, although very eager, is less able to run around and play compared to a few years ago. The same does not seem to be the case for Petunia. Ellen feels age is catching up to Rondo but doesn’t understand why the older Petunia isn’t showing a similar reduction in activity.
First, let’s assume that there are no underlying health problems for Rondo or Petunia and that Ellen’s observances do relate to age changes. It’s possible that Rondo might have a health problem that could lead to his change in activity, which would need an examination by his vet.
But purely in reference to aging, this is a prime example of the difference in rates within the same species. Rondo is aging, at least in activity, faster than Petunia, which tends to be the case with larger breeds of dogs. It’s a generalization, but one that bares truth.
Many of us have heard that a dog’s year of life is equivalent to 7 years in a human’s. This is actually not the case. In fact the aging process is not at all linear. A dog’s geriatric years vary widely depending on the breed and the aging process can be dramatic, seeming to occur right before our eyes in some instances. There are simply no generalities to be had here.
While it’s true that we can’t stop the aging process – and as I watched my own companion dealing with multiple age-related issues, I wished we could – there are things we can do as caretakers that might slow it a bit or at the very least make it more tolerable.
Proper nutrition and exercise are, I believe, the most important factors in our companions’ quality of life. There are supplements that can improve life quality and medications formulated to address some of the changes associated with aging, such as arthritis and secondary joint disease.
As our pets age, there are changes in their bodies associated with the process. There also are diseases that occur more readily in older patients distinguished from aging. That’s why regular examination and geriatric testing is important. Anytime we can discover a disease before it takes over, the better chance of curtailing and sometimes eliminating it.
Depending on the breed, I recommend basic diagnostic testing in older patients. This includes blood tests to check the kidneys and liver, among other things, as well as radiology (x-rays) of the abdomen and chest.
If your companion is aging, consider having a geriatric work-up. I cannot tell you how many times I have been rewarded after performing these tests and found an illness that was treated before it became serious. Equally rewarding are the times when I could tell a client that their companion’s diagnostic tests revealed no problems.
Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.