The geriatric patient

Living

CHECKUPS CRUCIAL Early treatments for age-related ailments can often help prolong a good quality of life for your pet as they enter their autumn years.

The vet's view

Conal Finnerty

Age comes to us all, if we are lucky, and with it comes challenges in terms of health and wellbeing. No more than us humans, animals tend to develop different ailments that are age related, and these pose a particular set of challenges in terms of diagnosis and treatment.
It can be difficult to determine the definitive age profile of a geriatric patient in terms of our domestic pets, as one can be fit and sprightly at aged 12 and another can start to show the effects of ageing at a much younger age. For example a collie cross dog can be fit and healthy with no obvious signs of slowing down or ageing at 14 years old, while a Labrador may be arthritic at aged eight. So in terms of our pets, it can be difficult to categorise old age in terms of disease processes or ailments, as these can manifest themselves from a relatively young age.
We are all aware of the common ailments that age brings – arthritis, reduced eye sight, slowing down, weight loss or gain, behavioural changes and problems with organ function, such as decreasing kidney, thyroid, liver and heart function, to name but a few. However, some of these changes can be masked by animals as much as possible and for as long as possible, as in the wild, these animals are more susceptible to being preyed upon, bullied or even ostracised.
Regular checkups and veterinary exams can commonly pick up or flag these changes for owners and very often, early diagnosis and intervention can prolong good quality of life for many pets.
I do emphasise quality of life, because sometimes these problems can lead an animal to have an unacceptably poor quality of life, and keeping them alive for our sake isn’t necessarily the proper thing to do. Animals with many more bad days than good, as well as animals that are in chronic pain that cannot be adequately controlled, deserve intervention in terms of euthanasia, even if this is difficult to accept.
I have always held the opinion that it’s not the length of life but the quality of life that’s important, especially in terms of our pets, and I believe this overrides keeping an animal alive at any cost.
Vet visits for regular checkups can reveal the beginnings of conditions, such as osteoarthritis, hypothyroidism, heart failure, liver disease and many more, and this can allow us to intervene early in an age-related ailment and ‘kick the can down the road’ in terms of making a decision to stop chronic suffering.
There are lots of things owners can do at home that can help in the ageing process of animals, such as close monitoring of weight (significant loss or gain warrants investigation), providing a good-quality diet, providing adequate soft bedding and warmth for an animal as they get stiff and sore from osteoarthritis, bringing them for regular checkups (at the very least yearly), committing to the administration of medications, possibly daily or twice daily to patients that need them, and being realistic about animal welfare in terms of managing the geriatric patient.
We all want to live to be 100, but speaking for myself, there needs to be more good days than bad!

Veterinarian Conal Finnerty MRCVS practises at the Skeldale Vet Clinic in Ballinrobe and Belmullet. Follow the clinic on Facebook, or call 094 9541980 or 087 9185350 to make an appointment.