When my clients make decisions on behalf of their senior dogs and cats, they routinely factor in their pet’s age. I often hear statements such as, “I would pursue a diagnosis if only she weren’t so old.” and “I would treat him if only he were younger.” When my clients voice such “senior objections” I gently encourage them to consider the situation a bit more objectively by considering their pet’s functional age rather than their chronological age. For example, it might be far safer for me to anesthetize the vigorous, playful thirteen-year-old Labrador with normal liver and kidney function I evaluated on Monday compared to the debilitated eleven-year-old Labrador with impaired kidney function I examined on Tuesday. Functionally speaking, the thirteen-year-old is, by far, the younger of the two. When making decisions, savvy medical advocates evaluate the whole package- spryness, organ function, overall comfort, joie de vivre- rather than considering age alone. Just because a dog or cat is, by definition, a senior citizen doesn’t mean their body is functioning like that of a senior citizen.
I thoroughly enjoyed explaining this point on NPR’s popular show, Fresh Air With Terry Gross. “Terry, you and I could both be 80 year old women in need of knee replacement surgery. You might be a terrific candidate for surgery, whereas I might be a horrible candidate!”
When making medical decisions, my clients frequently ask about their pet’s life expectancy. Life expectancies for cats and dogs of varying breeds are nothing more than averages. This means some individuals will never reach “average” and others will far exceed it.
Here’s the bottom line. If you have a happy, lively, interactive, and agile senior dog or cat on your hands, throw those age-related numbers and averages out the window. Rather, I encourage you to observe your pet’s overall quality of life, share some nose-to-nose time with your best buddy, look deep into those beautiful eyes, and make important medical decisions based on what’s truly important rather than simply a number. Have you ever needed to be a medical advocate for a senior pet? If so, please share your story.
Best wishes for good health,
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.
Tags: chronological age, Dr. Nancy Kay, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, functional age, medical decision making, NPR, senior cats, senior dogs, Speaking for Spot, Veterinary Care, veterinary diagnostic tests