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Q:  My Westie Abby is 12 years old.  She is a big part of our family and I want to do everything I can to prolong her lifespan.  She is currently healthy with some mild arthritis.  I was hoping that you can provide some advice on keeping her in good shape during the senior years?  Should I be providing her with a special diet or any specialized care or health testing?  Thank you for any input you can provide since I’d like her to live a long and happy life.

A:  There is an entire class of veterinary medicine we call “geriatric wellness” that would apply to your pet once they reach middle or old age.  The aging process differs by the size of the pet; for example, a Great Dane has an average life span of 8 years, while a small breed dog may live to be 15 years old.  A cat may live to be 20!  Therefore, it is important to know your animal and its life expectancy, and it is also helpful to be aware of breed related traits that may come with age, such as arthritis or certain types of cancer.  Geriatric wellness begins with your pet’s annual or bi-annual examination with your veterinarian.  Your pet’s doctor may wish to perform screening blood, urine, or fecal tests at these visits.  These tests are important because they can detect early changes in liver and/or kidney function, as well as certain endocrine diseases.  If you wish to give your pet a senior diet, be aware that certain diets are actually higher in fat content than adult maintenance diets.  You will want to look at the caloric content of the diet, and discuss any questions you may have with your veterinarian.  Finally, after a full physical examination, your veterinarian may wish to put your pet on supplements or anti-inflammatory medications to help with lameness or stiffness associated with osteoarthritis.  It is important to realize that although your pet may slow down as it ages, exercise and regular attention to comfort is very important to the overall quality of your pet’s life.

Heather Troyer, DVM, DABVP (Board Specialized in Canine and Feline Practice), CVA, (Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist), CVPP (Certified Veterinary Pain Practitioner)

Dr. Troyer graduated from the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2001. She completed a one-year internship at the Animal Medical Center in NY, NY from 2001-2002 and joined the staff at Oradell Animal Hospital in 2005 as a member of the general medicine and surgery group. In 2008, Dr. Troyer became board certified through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners in Canine and Feline Practice (general medicine and surgery), which awards specialty certification to practitioners who demonstrate expertise above and beyond what is required to practice veterinary medicine. In 2009, Dr. Troyer helped to create the Oradell CARES program. Oradell CARES is designed to assist families and patients with hospice and care giver support issues through both in-home evaluation and out-patient management. In addition, Dr. Troyer was awarded certification in veterinary acupuncture through the Chi Institute in Reddick, Florida, in 2010, and completed additional curricula in Tui-Na, a unique form of massage specific for Traditional Chinese Medicine. She most recently rounded out her education by becoming a Certified Veterinary Pain Practitioner through the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management in 2014. She practices integrative medicine, especially in cases where quality of life issues are paramount, and practices both out-patient and in-home pain management using both eastern and western techniques. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her children, running, and cooking. She frequently writes for medical journals such as Clinician’s Brief and Veterinary Team Brief, and actively promotes continuing education at our hospital through lectures and wet labs, and promotion of student externship programs.