Senior Pet Objections in Veterinary Medicine

By Patty Khuly, DVM on Sep. 20, 2011

Drives me crazy. I’ve only just started my physical and already I’ve faced two obstacles: Mr. Client #1 and Ms. Client #2. Both have made it plain (before I’ve even arrived at the ears in my nose-to-tail exam) that "Walter" is too old to be doing anything "heroic" for him.

Translation: I shouldn’t make a big deal out of all that gray stuff oozing from his gums, the green goobers clouding his puffy eyes, or the crusty stuff covering that mass he’s got on his lip. (Remember: I’m not even to his ears yet, but I can already hear his joints creaking).

From a veterinarian’s point of view, I’ve got just this to say about scenarios like this one: Why the hell did you bring him here? If you’re unwilling to do anything about what ails him, then why stress him out or spend your money on what amounts to a pricey formality? (A $48 exam is expensive in this economy, I think.)

Dr. Nancy Kay, of Speaking for Spot fame, agrees. Here’s what she has to say on the subject:

When my clients make decisions on behalf of their senior dogs and cats, they routinely factor in their pet’s age. I often hear statements such as, "I would pursue a diagnosis if only she weren’t so old," and "I would treat him if only he were younger."
When my clients voice such "senior objections," I gently encourage them to consider the situation a bit more objectively by considering their pet’s functional age rather than their chronological age.
For example, it might be far safer for me to anesthetize the vigorous, playful 13-year-old Labrador with normal liver and kidney function I evaluated on Monday compared to the debilitated 11-year-old Labrador with impaired kidney function I examined on Tuesday. Functionally speaking, the 13-year-old is, by far, the younger of the two.
When making decisions, savvy medical advocates evaluate the whole package — spryness, organ function, overall comfort, joie de vivre — rather than considering age alone. Just because a dog or cat is, by definition, a senior citizen doesn’t mean their body is functioning like that of a senior citizen.
I thoroughly enjoyed explaining this point on NPR’s popular show, Fresh Air with Terry Gross.
"Terry, you and I could both be 80 year old women in need of knee replacement surgery. You might be a terrific candidate for surgery, whereas I might be a horrible candidate!"
When making medical decisions, my clients frequently ask about their pet’s life expectancy. Life expectancies for cats and dogs of varying breeds are nothing more than averages. This means some individuals will never reach "average" and others will far exceed it.
Here’s the bottom line: If you have a happy, lively, interactive, and agile senior dog or cat on your hands, throw those age-related numbers and averages out the window. Rather, I encourage you to observe your pet’s overall quality of life, share some nose-to-nose time with your best buddy, look deep into those beautiful eyes, and make important medical decisions based on what’s truly important, rather than simply a number.

Gotta love the "senior objections" bit. I may just have to steal that. Dr. Kay just rocks, don’t you think?

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: Happiness In Old Age by me'nthedogs

 old dog, happy old dog, health care for old pets, caring for older pets, senior pets


Patty Khuly, DVM


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