By the Faculty of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University
Edited by Nicholas Dodman, with Lawrence Lindner
Geriatric is the term used for anyone—human or otherwise—who has reached the 75th percentile of his or her expected lifespan. So, that would apply to me and to my athletic blonde Lab mix Katrina. I’m 57, she’s 10. But, as this book points out emphatically, being labeled geriatric doesn’t mean we’re doddering or frail. It’s not a disease or a prognosis implying imminent death. (Anyone who has visited my Facebook page knows that Katrina is my intrepid companion on three- to five-mile jogs taken four or five times a week; that she joins me snowshoeing when weather demands it; and that she dances. Beautifully. Our Sophie is also 10 years old, but being a smaller dog is likely going to enjoy a longer lifespan. She, however, is more of a coach potato. Nellie the cat is 12 and on the outer edges of geriatric.)
In Katrina’s case, there are many ways to lengthen and enhance her life, and that of other older dogs, through wellness and preventive care. The faculty of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University provide anecdotal examples of treating geriatric canines, and also explain the most common issues dogs of a certain age must face. They begin with nutrition—certainly one of the most confusing aspects of dog care. Do we switch our dogs from their regular food to a “senior” food? What are the differences, if any? Are there actual dangers involved with some of the new trends in feeding? (The answer is yes, unfortunately.)
The book then discusses the five most common medical issues, one of which is dental. Katrina has never had terribly good dental health. She’s gone for a thorough cleaning, under anesthesia, but it looks like this is something we’ll have to plan on doing annually. Sophie, on the other hand, has perfect teeth and gums. There’s no real rhyme or reason, just individual physiology. But poor dental health can kill an otherwise healthy dog. Daily brushing is now part of our regimen. Diabetes, laryngeal paralysis, Cushing’s syndrome, and urinary incontinence are the other most common problems seen in older dogs.
The three leading causes of death in an older dog are cancer, heart disease, and kidney disease. The book delves deeply into all three, providing signs to look for, options for treatment, and prognoses. Obviously, the doctors cannot stress enough how important it is to catch any illness early and not shy away from potentially bad news. These days, so many illnesses are treatable, and the resulting additional months of quality life for your dog are certainly worthwhile. Just keep in mind dog years, not human years, and sometimes the decision to pursue treatment will make more sense.
Of course, a huge issue with all animal caretakers is expense. The cost of care is a heartbreaking hurdle in some cases, particularly when the care concerns a fourteen-year-old dog, rather than a ten-month-old pup and a protocol that could run into the thousands for a few extra months of life. Money shouldn’t always be the deciding factor in treatment, but let’s face it, it often is. Good Old Dog discusses the financial aspects candidly and offers several options to alleviate the dilemma. One is pet insurance, which I will definitely be investigating, since all three members of my “staff” here are geriatric. It’s a no-brainer that in the next three or four years, one or all will undergo some sort of medical crisis. If you are in the same position, why not plan for it, instead of hoping that your loved one will simply succumb in her sleep when the time arrives? You know that’s not likely.
In the back of this helpful book is a list of resources for dog caregivers. Unfortunately, this book was published over four years ago, but I found that many of the resources are still relevant. I would just like to see more updated information on new treatments and nutritional breakthroughs.
No matter the age of your dog, this book will be relevant to you—if not now, down the road. Please consider all options as outlined here before simply giving up on your friend and assuming his life has lost its value because he is unable to get around or has accidents on the carpet. Euthanasia is a blessing for dogs who have lost all interest in life and are plagued by pain, but these days, medical advances in treatment may allow postponing the end. Alternative choices for treatment are gaining momentum, too, and should not be discounted. Whatever the age or issue, you owe it to your friend to consider all possibilities. This book will be invaluable to you in helping make those decisions.