Dr. M. Margaret King
Special to The Sun
Q: I am writing to ask about when a dog begins to be considered a senior pet. My miniature poodle Shelly is 8 1/2 years old and has begun to have trouble getting up onto her chair and the bed. She weights 12 pounds and her weight is about right for her body size. Is this just because she is getting older or does she need to be checked out because of her age? I do not want her to be diagnosed with “old age” just yet. She is the love of my life and I want her to be comfortable in her day-to-day which I hop is a long time.
A: The answer is both yes and no. Shelly is just entering what we call her “senior” years. For most pets we begin to watch their behavior and physiologic changes by seven to eight years of age. This of course varies with size and breed. It is essential to keep a close eye on these as any pet enters this life stage.
“Old age is not a diagnosis or a disease. It is simply a classification just as is puppy, adult, toddler or teenager. Old age or being s senior simply means the body is beginning to reflect the effects of the wear and tear of time. The internal organs can begin to show wear of use over time. The heart, liver, kidneys etc. also begin to show the stresses of so much work over time. Both physical and mental changes are also likely to show up as changes in joint function and memory capabilities as we have in humans.
Joints in particular develop spurs, wear out cartilage that cushions them and may have recovered from various stresses such as ligament tears at some time. Monitoring her weight like you have done is good because excess weight having to be carried on hips, knees, ankles and backs wears them out prematurely.
To check her internal organ functions, blood tests, ultrasounds and radiographs can be used to determine changes in structure and function which frequently follows structural changes. For example a leaky heart valve can affect overall strength and endurance for everyday activities. This can eventually result in an enlarged heart and problems with kidney function.
Kidney function is a common thing that changes as pets age for a variety of reasons. Blood work should be done at least annually to determine if kidneys or any other organ is beginning to need our help. This may be a change in diet, blood pressure meds to lower blood pressure and other things to let the heart and kidneys work easier. The sooner we discover what needs help and initiate that help, the longer Shelly can live comfortably. It is all about quality of life and not just simply longevity.
Shelly should visit her veterinarian as soon as possible for an exam of her joints and other functions. There are several things she can do to help her be able to get up on her chair and the bed comfortably, especially if it is simply due to a sore joint. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help her by taking away the inflammation and soreness. Before starting these drugs, however, we need to be sue her liver and kidneys are healthy and can handle the use of the drug.
There are palatable doggy chews that contain glucosamine, chondroitine and MSM that can both help to lubricate the joints and condition the cartilage. Gentle but regular short walks daily can strengthen her muscles and help with her arthritis.
Cognitive dysfunction will at some point also become an issue. This is becoming more prevalent as our pets are living longer because of better foods, preventatives, medicine and vaccines. This condition is mirroring the human population where 80 is the new 40. In our pets, 14 is the new 10 years old. We just need to be vigilant about her check-ups and maintenance of her specific needs as they occur.