Dogs age more rapidly than humans, especially large breed dogs, and it is thought that one year to a human can be as many as seven years biologically for a pet dog. For example, if your dog is eight years of age, in “human years” your pet is approaching his sixties.
The life expectancy of a dog is highly dependent on its breed with most large breed dogs having a life-span of approximately 10 years (although in some breeds it is as few as five years), while smaller breeds may live for 20 years or more. However, most dogs are considered senior at seven years of age, while most 10 year old dogs can be considered to be in old age.
Pets go through different life stages, from being a puppy through a juvenile to adult, and their needs change as they age. Dogs grow up at different rates and some breeds stay puppies for a long time whilst others mature quickly, but all dogs should be mature by two years of age.
Each stage of a dog’s life requires regular veterinary check-ups and consultations regarding vaccinations, nutrition and exercise.
Older dogs may develop problems related to ‘wear and tear’ as well as particular illnesses and often have special requirements for care. However, they still may enjoy a good quality of life and age is not a reason to accept ill health. Pets in affluent societies, in general, have a higher quality of life than ever before thanks to better preventive care, advances in veterinary medicine and better nutrition and they live longer. In turn, this leads to a changing nature of veterinary practice with increasing focus on the growing number of aging pets, who require more frequent health checks to lead healthier lives.
Veterinary professionals, in general, recommend that younger, healthy animals should undergo health examinations at least once a year. For senior pets, more frequent health examinations are recommended to catch early signs of medical problems. However, it needs to be pointed out that individual animals have different needs, so the best schedule for each individual pet should be agreed in consultation between pet owners and their veterinarians.
Frequent visits enable veterinarians to prevent certain diseases or detect and treat them early on, as well as suggest life-stage-appropriate changes for each individual pet’s needs. On the other hand, postponing a veterinary visit for just a couple of months could be the human equivalent of delaying a potentially life-saving test for years, due to relatively rapid aging of pets. The first sign of what could become a serious health issue for an aging pet could be a slight change, for example, in appetite or activity. Often, pets changing conditions may be a symptom of a treatable medical condition rather than related to old age.
A range of tests are available to veterinarians to evaluate animal health. Some commonly performed tests in senior pets include Haematological examination (such as complete blood cell count to diagnose anaemia, infections and inflammation); Blood-chemistry panel (to evaluate kidney, liver, pancreas and thyroid functions); Urinalysis (to diagnose kidney diseases, diabetes and urinary tract infections); and Parasite evaluation, such as heartworms (Dirofilaria immitis), roundworms (Toxocara canis), tapeworms (Echinococcus, Taenia and Dypilidium species), fleas and ticks.
To learn more about aging pet care or any other aspects of veterinary medicine visit the VetMed Resource, which includes the most comprehensive reference database covering all aspects of veterinary science and practice.