Vail Pet Talk: Animals can age with grace, too |

Vail Pet Talk: Animals can age with grace, too

Stephen M. Sheldon
VAIL CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyDr. Stephen Sheldon

“When is a pet a senior citizen, doc?”

“When they start getting in the movies for a discount, they’re a senior citizen!” Seriously, a 7-year-old pet is considered a geriatric animal, and geriatric animals require special care if they are to live to a ripe old age.

Two types of changes occur with aging: age-related changes (i.e., vision and hearing losses), which are normal, and pathological changes (disease states), which are not normal and can be prevented or treated if detected early enough.

Proper care for geriatric animals includes periodic checkups, routine vaccinations, dental exams, parasite control, exercise and a proper diet. During the check-up, I perform a thorough physical exam with the emphasis on trying to detect any conditions that require immediate attention, or equally important, may present a problem in the future. Depending on your pet’s condition, I may perform some of the following diagnostic procedures:

•-Chest and abdominal X-rays: To determine organ size, look for cancer, see arthritic changes, detect bladder stones, heart disease, etc.

•-Urinalysis: To assess kidney function, bladder infections, etc.

• Complete blood count: To help assess or identify bacterial and/or viral infections, anemia, platelet counts (for blood clotting) and in general to assess the immune systems functions.

• Blood chemistry profile: To assess liver, kidney, pancreas function and gastrointestinal problems.

• Electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride): Important in evaluating cardiac and GI disease. The balance of these chemicals is critical.

•-Electrocardiogram: To assess cardiac function and lung disease. Certain metabolic and electrolyte disorders can also be detected with an EKG.

Many of the problems older animals face can be prevented or delayed simply by changing their diet. For example, low sodium diets are available for animals with heart problems and low phosphorous and protein diets are available for kidney disease. Healthy older animals also have special nutritional requirements; lower calories, lower protein and increased fiber can all delay the onset of age-related problems.

The key to aging with grace for animals is simple: Practice preventative medicine! The oldest domestic animal alive is a 32-year-old housecat in England (that’s equal to 224 human years). That gives us all a nice goal to shoot for!

Dr. Stephen Sheldon practices at Gypsum Animal Hospital. Call 970-524-3647 to learn more. He has written on numerous topics and the articles are archived at

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