Keeping Our Senior Pets Happy And Healthy

Happy Birthday, Charlie!

charlieCharlie, my labradoodle, turned 12 this past week. Sure, we celebrated with a scrambled egg breakfast and a trip to the pet store to pick out a new toy, but I couldn’t help thinking, “Wow, 12!  My boy is getting OLD,” and I felt sad knowing his remaining time with me is inevitably limited. While I can’t magically help Charlie live to be 80 human years, there are lots of ways to improve and extend the “golden years” of our senior pets. I learned during a recent continuing education conference that keeping your older dog’s weight slightly under what is considered optimal can actually add a year or two to his life. Charlie eats a high quality, hypoallergenic diet because he suffers from food allergies, but there are lots of good, healthy pet foods to choose from. After his birthday brunch, I gave Charlie his annual physical exam and performed wellness testing. What is wellness testing? It’s a complete lab panel that gives your vet a quick but quite thorough snapshot of your pet’s basic health. It includes a CBC (a complete blood cell count—looks at both white and red blood cells), and a serum chemistry and electrolyte screen (a means of checking liver and kidney function, blood sugar, sodium, potassium and other electrolyte levels), and a urinalysis (checks urine for concentration, abnormal cells, and infection). Charlie passed with flying colors! During his exam, I checked Charlie’s eyes, ears, and mouth (he’ll need his annual dental cleaning this fall to keep his gums healthy and prevent more serious health problems), listened to his heart & lungs, palpated (carefully felt) his lymph nodes and abdomen, examined his joints and skin, and evaluated his gait and nervous system.

I’m just starting to notice that he’s losing balance in his rear legs, particularly on slippery surfaces. X-rays of his spine show what is called “narrowed disc spaces.” This means his vertebrae in certain areas have moved too close together and are pinching the disc (soft tissue structure in between each vertebrae) causing some pressure on his spinal cord. (See photo.) Right now his symptoms are mild, and because I want them to stay that way, I’ve started him on some anti-oxidant therapy (vitamins and supplements that combat free radicals—those pesky molecules that cause inflammation), along with stretching and strengthening exercises. I’ve combined this with some targeted massage to relax and lengthen the muscles along his spine. Properly done, massage can be a huge help to your aging pet. And Charlie definitely prefers this to having his teeth brushed—go figure! Questions about your aging pet? If you live in our area (Kirkland, WA), grab the free exam web coupon off our website and call Critter Doctor for an appointment.