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 HEALTH FORUMS for Spinone Italiano
 Aging Spinone
 Grow Old with Me,The Best is Yet to Be, Lisa Boyer
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Author  Topic Next Topic: Decisions, Decisions ... by Lisa Boyer, DVM  


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 Posted - 08/02/2012 :  5:10:11 PM Show Profile Visit SpinoneMAX's Homepage Add SpinoneMAX to Buddylist
The following article was previously published in the March 2012 Versatile Hunting Dog (NAVHDA) magazine and is being reprinted here with the permission of the author.

"Grow Old with Me, The Best Is Yet to Be." (Robert Frost) by Lisa Boyer, DVM

A popular old wives' tale says that one dog-year is equal to seven human-years. Although not exactly accurate on a physiological level, we know that dogs age more rapidly than their owners do. Their aging process means that senior-citizen status is conferred as early as six years in some breeds, and that special attention needs to be paid to nutrition, medical care and exercise to keep your pet happy and hunting for many years.

Routine Health Screenings
Surprisingly, only 14% of senior pets undergo regular veterinarian-recommended health screenings. (refers to The Path to High-Quality Care: Practical Tips For Improving Compliance, Lakewood CO: Am Anim Hosp). Several reasons exist for annual or semiannual well-pet veterinary checkups. This might seem too frequent, but remember that if your dog sees a veterinarian once a year, that is similar to your going to the doctor once every seven years. In most cases, semiannual visits are ideal.

It is important that your pet has "baseline" lab tests for future comparison and to detect minor changes that might already be present. Dogs that appear healthy can have abnormalities in their urine and blood that, if left undetected, can lead to serious disease. Early detection allows for intervention before your pet exhibits symptoms and while conditions can be improved. Your veterinarian should conduct a thorough physical exam that includes evaluations of the heart, skin, lymph nodes, teeth and oral cavity, central nervous system, abdominal organs, muscles and bones. In addition, your veterinarian should examine for a common cancer (anal gland adenocarcinoma). A thorough history and physical exam, in combination with routine wellness testing, will help you and your veterinarian formulate a plan to keep your hunting partners in peak physical condition.

Dental Care
Caring for your dog's mouth is an important part of keeping our hunting dog healthy. Most senior pets have some dental disease. A pet that has inflamed gums, fractured teeth or severe tartar buildup not only has bad breath, but also might be in pain. This can lead to a decrease in appetite, a resistance to retrieving game or a general change in energy level. Research supports the fact that dental disease contribues to early heart or kidney disease. If your pet is otherwise healthy, the risk of the dental disease exceeds the risk of anesthesia, even for senior dogs. Your veterinarian will use safe anesthetic protocols to minimize pet risk. After I have cleaned a dog's teeth, I frequently get reports that he is more energetic and playful, often acting like a puppy.

As dogs age, their nutritional needs change. Some dog foods are labeled for "senior dogs" and in some cases can be appropriate for your pet. Senior dog foods usually have fewer calories and a different protein content than in regular maintenance diets. Depending on your dog's physical status and activity level, your veterinarian might recommend them. Discuss this issue with your vererinarian as part of your pet's annual health examination.

As your dog gets older, it becomes important to consider adding supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil), glucosamine and choindroitin sulfate, and antioxidants. These supplements might help osteoarthritis and possibly prevent some cancers.

Be aware of your aging dog's exercise needs and abilities. Exercise is important for your pet for many reasons, including cardiovascular health, mental stimulation and bone/joint health. Becoming aware of your dog's limitations, however, is also essential. Allow adequate time for warm-up and cool-down. Your dog might not be able to hunt as long or hard as before but he can continue to work within reasonable parameters. Pay particular attention to his feet; ensure that nails are trimmed. Long nails change the way the paw hits the ground and predisposes a dog to injury.

Warning Signs
You know your dog better than anyone else does and you play a key role in mtaintaining his health. The best prevention is early detection of disease. See your veterinarian if you notice any of the following signs in your senior dog:

. Increased thirst or urination
. Weight loss or gain without a change in diet/activity
. Skin tumors/masses or wounds that do not heal
. Slowing down - unable/resistant to running, jumping or climbing stairs
. Decreased appetite
. Loss of vision/hearing

Knowing When to Say Goodbye/End-of-Life Care
A common question from pet owners is, "How will I know when it is time to consider euthanasia?" I generally tell people that they are the best judge of their dog's quality of life. I have adopted several benchmarks over the years to help pet owners make decisions for their pets when their quality of life is questionable.

Pets need to be able to urinate and defecate and be able to move themselves away from the area where they voided (i.e., not remain lying in their own waste). In addition, they should be able to eat, drink and interact in some meaningful way with their family. The final, and perhaps the most important consideration, is that they not be in pain. It is wise to discuss quality-of-life issues with your veterinarian and you should think ahead to know your opinions. Some owners will go to any extreme to save an ailing pet, sometimes to the pet's detriment. Discussions with family members before a crisis will help if you are in a situation that requires end-of-life care.

Much progress has been made over the years about pain management and palliative care for an aging and ailing pet. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs, as well as the use of cold-laser or stem-cell therapy, have improved quality of life for pets that have arthritis, cancer or other diseases.

For owners who want to follow more traditional medical practices, many advances in the use of pain medication allow your pet to remain more active and comfortable. Signs of pain in your dog can be subtle. Some dogs might have only a decreased appetite or might sleep more. Other dogs might vocalize or act anxious. Pets might not interact as frequently with family members or they might show elevations in heart rate, temperature or blood pressure. If you suspect that your dog is in pain, discuss treatment options with your veterinarian. Never give your dog any over-the-counter human medication such as Tylenol, Motrin or Aleve. They are toxic to dogs and can lead to kidney and liver failure. Many economical pain medications are available to keep your pet comfortable as he ages.

As your dog ages, remember that she might need a little TLC. However, old age is not a disease. I treat many dogs who hunt well into their senior years. Their wisdom and experience make them excellent hunting partners. Attention to nutrition, exercise, wellness health examinations and pain management can add extra years of life to your best friend!

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