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.