Is Old Age a Disease?

by Dr. Fincher / Tuesday, 12 March 2013 / Published in Aging, Pet Health
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To answer the question posed in the title, absolutely, unequivocally, NO!

But why do I ask?
I’ll admit, its very easy for those of us in the veterinary profession to fall into the mind set that old age is a disease and diagnose our geriatric patients with “OA” (not osteoarthritis for those acronym savvy readers).  That being said, it is, however, more likely that we’re going to see an increase in disease in patients over 8 years of age.  This is a side effect of aging on the body and should be, to some degree, expected and planned for.

I’m sure many pet owners feel like they’re being “up sold” or gouged when they head into the veterinarian and as a result go in holding their breath for what we’re going to try to “sell” them this trip, rehearsing their automatic, “no, not today, Puffer is doing perfectly fine, maybe later” reply.  I obviously can not speak for the profession as a whole, but I can tell you that the recommendations that I make regarding my patients, I do so with only their health and well being in mind.

I’ll be publishing a series of blogs regarding some of these perceived  “up sells”, but today I’m going to address what we’ve taken to calling our “Senior Screening”.  As the body ages, just like in humans, things don’t always work up to the level they may have previously.   Many of the maladies that eventually result in the deaths of our old friends are very gradual processes within the body and may not be detectable by monitoring behavior or visible symptoms until the disease is so advanced there is very little we can do.  It is for this reason that at approximately 8 years old, despite a normal report and normal physical examination, we recommend an analysis of the blood and urine to look for signs of early diseases such as kidney, liver and thyroid disease.  In addition, as a way to advance the quality of care for our patients, we’re going to add routine blood pressure to all our geriatric patients to screen for early hypertension and in doing so, try to prevent damage to the heart and kidneys by getting that under control.

I honestly hope that the bulk of my screening turns up blood work and urine samples that look like those of a 2 year old dog.  However, for those that do suggest early disease processes, this gives me the chance to slow the progression of disease with diet and medication and hopefully give my clients and their pets more quality years together.

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