Westbury Animal Hospital
713.723.3666 · 4917 S. Willow Dr. Houston, Texas 77035 

Senior (At Risk) Pets

by Jeff Chalkley, DVM

Helen Hayes said it best: “Age is not important, unless you are a cheese!”

At Westbury Animal Hospital, we have a variation of that saying: “Age is not a disease, just a risk factor.”  As we all get older, the list of ailments can get longer, from arthritis on a cold Houston morning to not being able to eat spicy foods. Similarly, the list of ailments gets longer for our pets as they age. 

If age is not a disease, then at what age does risk of disease start to become a factor?  Most of our pets become at risk for certain diseases around seven (7) years of age. At seven (7) years of age dogs and cats weighing under 20 pounds are the equivalent to approximately 44 human years.  Whereas dogs of the same age and weighing over 50 pounds are approximately 50 human years old. As those of us who are in that age bracket can agree, these years are not our “senior” years, but these are the years we need to start taking care of our bodies so as to reduce the risk for developing health issues.

Let me tell you about “Shao-Pon.”  “Shao-Pon” is a 9 year old male Maine Coon who started vomiting once a week. “Shao-Pon’s” owner thought “Shao-Pon” had lost some body weight although he was eating very well at home and all bodily functions were normal.  “Shao-Pon’s” pet parent was not at all worried when she brought him in for his biannual (6 month Senior) exam.  Besides the vomiting once a week, there were no other issues; “Shao-Pon’s” physical exam at Westbury was normal. I did not find anything on his physical exam that was concerning at all, except a small bump in his neck. “Shao-Pon’s” pet parent agreed to do the routine blood work, which included a Complete Blood Count, Bio-Chemistry Profile with a Total Thyroxine four (4) level, and a Urinalysis.  We found that all levels were normal except a high Thyroxine four (4) level.  A high Thyroxine level indicated hyperthyroidism, a disease that can shorten “Shao-Pon’s” life, but is easily treated with a medication placed in the ear pinna at meal time (2 times a day). This treatment is simple and will extend “Shao-Pon’s” life by years.

Or the Story of “Flyer,” a beautiful 8 year old Female Golden Retriever that happened to be boarding in the Kennel at Westbury Animal Hospital while her pet parent was on a business trip.  “Flyer’s” pet parent had Westbury do a biannual exam (6 month Senior exam) while staying with Westbury Animal Hospital.  The exam was done during her stay and “Flyer” had the typical age related issues, the lenses in her eyes were getting thicker due to age and her elbows were getting a bit arthritic due to such an active lifestyle (“Flyer” was very trim for a golden retriever and ran 3-5 miles a day).  However, while doing a rectal exam, cleaning out her anal glands, the doctor found a small, pea- sized mass in her anal gland on the right side.  “Flyer’s” pet parent was consulted about the mass, and it was decided to do surgery to remove the mass.  “Flyer” underwent surgery, the mass was completely removed, and because the mass was small and detected early, she recovered in a day. “Flyer’s” mass was malignant; however, because it was removed so early there was no spread of the disease.

These two accounts of senior pets are shared with you in order to highlight the point that our beloved four-legged family members cannot speak about how they are feeling; they rely on us as pet parents to ensure that they live a long life. The best thing to prolong your senior pet’s healthy life is to have a physical exam performed every six (6) months.  We understand that life circumstances cannot always allow you to run expensive blood work tests or perform surgery.  In these two (2) examples, the physical exam was where the information was obtained to help their pet parents decide what actions needed to be taken for the future of their pet.  Information about your pet’s health gives you the power to decide what is best for you and your pet, so you can plan for the future.

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