Sunday, April 24, 2011


Where were you on 22 April 1970?  OK, I know some of you would have trouble telling us where you were just a week ago...but, here's a big hint:

Unless you've been living in a cave or away from any kind of news coverage, you'll recall that 22 April 1970 was the first observance of Earth Day.  Helpful Buckeye recalls being stationed at Ft. Sam Houston, San Antonio, going through my training to be a medic and lab technician in the US Army when the first Earth Day became news.  At that time of the height of the Vietnam war, a celebration of the health of the Earth was just about the farthest thing from my mind.  However, scientists have learned a lot about our Earth since then and still, even so, have barely scratched the surface (figuratively and literally) of our planet.  My purpose is not to get into the politics of those issues but rather to remind everyone that our awareness of Earth's condition is much more important now than it was 41 years ago.  Do your part!

Our old pal, Socrates, had an early start on this observation of Earth Day...his comment was : “Man must rise above the Earth—to the top of the atmosphere and beyond—for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.”

The poll questions from last week's issue on Cats Behaving Badly produced some fairly predictable results.  80% of respondents said they either owned or had been around a cat that was aggressive.  Only 33% felt they could read a cat's "body language."  In households of more than one cat, it was reported that 50% of the time they got along with each other OK.  And, 90% of respondents said they had been bitten by a cat.  Perhaps they were the ones who either couldn't read a cat's "body language" or ignored what they were seeing?  Many times Helpful Buckeye could read a cat's "body language" but still had to perform a physical exam and handle some pretty tough cats.  That inevitably led to a few cat bites of my own.  Remember to answer this week's poll questions in the column to the left.

How many times have you heard someone utter these words, "Getting older is a -----"?  And, the older you get, the more you'll probably be echoing those very sentiments.  Well, our pets also get to experience the very same progression of aging...especially if they've been lucky enough to be with an owner who has been conscientious enough to take good care of them.  There are many things to keep in mind as your pet ages and Helpful Buckeye will help you prepare for that over the next few weeks, here at Questions On Dogs and Cats.

                   Getting Older Is Tough For Pets Too

The first question every pet owner has about their pet aging is, "How will I know when my pet is becoming a senior pet?"  The ASPCA offers this guideline: 

Most dogs enter their golden years between seven and 10 years of age, with large/giant breeds becoming seniors earlier than small breeds. Many breeds experience a graying of their coat as they age, particularly around the muzzle—but there are other, more subtle signs that your dog is aging.

Its hearing may not be as sharp as it once was, the fur may be thinner, and it may take a little longer to get up and out of bed in the mornings. It is also perfectly normal for an older dog to sleep more than it used to and to tire more quickly when playing. In healthy dogs, these changes occur slowly, over time, at a gradual pace that you probably won’t even notice.

The American Animal Hospital Association adds these comments:

Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine, pets are living longer than ever before. However with this increased lifespan comes an increase in the types of ailments that can afflict senior pets. As pets reach the golden years, there are a variety of conditions and diseases that they can face, including weight and mobility changes; osteoarthritis; kidney, heart, and liver disease; tumors and cancers; hormone disorders such as diabetes and thyroid imbalance; and many others. Just as the health care needs of humans change as we age, the same applies to pets. It’s critical for pet owners to work closely with their veterinarian to devise a health plan that is best for their senior pet.

So when is a pet considered a senior? Generally, smaller breeds of dogs live longer than larger breeds, and indoor cats live longer than dogs. Beyond that, the life span will vary with each individual, and your veterinarian will be able to help you determine what stage of life your furry friend is in. Keep in mind that some small dog breeds may be considered senior at 10-13 years, while giant breeds can be classified as seniors at ages as young as five. Your veterinarian is your best source for more information to determine when your pet reaches the golden years.

With the senior years comes a general “slowing down” in pets. As their major senses (sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell) dull, you may find that your pet has a slower response to general external stimuli. This loss of sensory perception often is a slow, progressive process, and it may even escape your notice. The best remedy for gradual sensory reduction is to keep your pet active—playing and training are excellent ways to keep their senses sharp. Pets may also be affected mentally as they age. Just as aging humans begin to forget things and are more susceptible to mental conditions, your aging animals may also begin to confront age-related cognitive and behavior changes. Most of these changes are rather subtle and can be addressed in a proactive manner. Regular senior health exams can help catch and treat these problems before they control your pet’s life.

The physical changes your pets experience are generally easier to spot than the sensory changes. As the body wears out, its ability to respond to infection is reduced, and the healing process takes longer. Therefore, it is crucial to consult a veterinarian if you notice a significant change in behavior or the physical condition of your pet. Many of the signs indicating that animals are approaching senior citizenship are the same for both cats and dogs, but they can indicate a variety of different problems.

From the American Veterinary Medical Association:

Experts estimate that aging pets make up more than a quarter of the nation’s pet population. According to a study conducted by the AVMA, at least 28% of the nation’s dogs and more than 25% of its cats are at least 8 years old, a benchmark commonly used to determine whether an animal can be classified as a senior. Applying those percentages to current pet-population statistics, this means more than 45 million pets in the United States likely would be classified as seniors.

As you can see from this chart, the ages at which cats are classified as seniors are a little different than dogs.

So, the answer to the question, "How will I know when my pet is becoming a senior pet?", has some variability depending on whether it's a dog or a cat and, if it's a dog, what size it is.  When you think of people you know that don't really reflect their actual age, in other words, someone who is 80 years old but acts and looks like they are 65 or the 65-year old who acts and looks like they are 80, it is easy to understand why there is such a range of aging difference in animals.

Once you've established that your pet is probably a senior pet, it would be advisable to talk with your veterinarian about setting up a schedule for regular exams.

Scheduling regular veterinary examinations is one of the most important steps pet owners can take to keep their pets in tip-top shape. When dogs and cats enter the senior years, these health examinations are more important than ever. Senior care, which starts with the regular veterinary exam, is needed to catch and delay the onset or progress of disease and for the early detection of problems such as organ failure and osteoarthritis. AAHA recommends that healthy senior dogs and cats visit the veterinarian every six months for a complete exam and laboratory testing. Keep in mind that every year for a dog or cat is equivalent to 5–7 human years. In order to stay current with your senior pet’s health care, twice-a-year exams are a must. During the senior health exam, your veterinarian will ask you a lot of questions regarding any changes in your pet’s activity and behavior.

And, this advice from the ASPCA:

For you to be able to properly answer the questions your veterinarian is likely to ask you about your senior pet, you really need to be aware of how your pet has acted in the other words, how it has acted when normally healthy.  If you haven't been properly observant when your pet was younger, you might not pick up on some of the subtle changes that are seen with the onset of the senior years.

Indeed, one of the best ways to know if your pet is sick is to know how he acts when he feels well.

“You know your pet better than I, so I always encourage my clients to keep a journal, particularly if their pet is older and has other conditions,” said Dr. Ryan McKenzie, associate veterinarian at Banfield The Pet Hospital near Wilmington, Del. No matter what the animal, two of the most common signs of illness are lethargy and changes in appetite, McKenzie said.

When a typically enthusiastic eater doesn’t want dinner, then something is definitely up. Conversely, a suddenly ravenous animal also could mean something is wrong.

In older cats, this can be a symptom of hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid gland.


To finish up this portion of our "Getting Older..." series, read this story of one cat owner's efforts to keep her senior cat comfortable for as long as possible:

                                      Grow Old with Me

Increasingly, owners are willing to take on home-nursing tasks to keep their aging pets with them as long as possible. How can practices help their clients be good caretakers?

When Coyote, a 14-year-old mixed, short-hair tabby cat, was diagnosed with progressive kidney disease, his owner, Carolyn Linville, instantly wanted to know two things: How long did he have to live? And what could be done to prolong his life while keeping him as pain free as possible?

“I felt that I owed at least that much to him,” says Linville, who found Coyote when he was about two years old. “He was really a grand ole tough sort of male cat, and I thought he deserved to live as long as he could, provided he wasn’t in pain.”

In short order, Gretchen Bassett, DVM, co-owner of Arvada Flats Veterinary Hospital in Arvada, Colo., gave Linville her answer: without medical attention, Coyote probably would die within a month. With intensive care, though, which would require a good deal of home nursing by Linville, Coyote’s life might be extended by up to half a year or more.

Increasingly, because veterinary practices are delivering higher-quality medical care to family pets, animals are living well past what used to be considered a normal life span. Likewise, veterinary practices are diagnosing and outlining treatments for greater numbers of chronic and age-related diseases, including the kind of longer-term, regular care that Linville gave Coyote. For the practice team, the upshot is that staff members may need to cultivate new training skills to help clients become extensions of the veterinary health care team.

When Linville opted to help Coyote live comfortably as long as possible, she had to learn how to give him twice-daily shots of subcutaneous fluids, always using a new needle and inserting it in the region between Coyote’s shoulder blades. “I had to make certain that I broke the skin, but never went into his muscles,” she says. “It was all about learning how to find the exact right place.”

Bassett also showed Linville how to set up the IV line connected to the fluid bag and how to put the needle at the end, making certain that all the air was extracted from the line before she inserted the needle. Because Coyote had a microchip between his shoulders, Bassett showed Linville how to work around it and avoid muscle tissue. “I had to demonstrate that I knew what I was doing by going through a mock insertion,” Linville recalls.

In the early weeks, Linville also had to bring Coyote regularly to Bassett’s office for a series of tests to monitor his condition. Some six weeks later, Bassett thought Linville could reduce Coyote’s fluid-by-needle intake from twice daily to once a day.

Linville continued this regimen for another nine months or so until it became apparent that Coyote needed to be euthanized, a step Linville agreed to in order to cut short the cat’s last days of discomfort. Ultimately, though, Coyote’s life had been extended by at least 11 months beyond the day Bassett originally gave the diagnosis. Linville’s efforts had made all the difference.

Even though treating Coyote required daily attention, Linville says she would gladly do it again. “You brush and floss your teeth a couple of times a day,” Linville says by way of comparison. “To help keep alive an animal I dearly loved, this was not asking too much.”

For veterinary teams, the story of Coyote is instructive, showing not only that intensive home care can extend the life of even old and seriously ill pets, but also that owners increasingly are willing to take part in giving treatments.

“Pets are living longer than ever before, primarily due to the advancement of superior preventive care earlier in their lives as well as our own increasing ability to care for the needs of a pet in their older years,” says Mark Epstein, DVM, medical director of the AAHA-accredited Total Bond Veterinary Hospitals in Gastonia, N.C., and chair of an AAHA task force that is drafting veterinary care guidelines for senior companion animals.

“The role that pet owners play [with their senior-aged animals] cannot be understated,” Epstein says. “To a surprising degree, many of them want to get involved in a hands-on way with the treatment of their pets, and when that happens, it’s not only an asset for the veterinarian, it’s something that can greatly enhance the quality of life for a pet.”

“Clients in general are better informed and educated on pet issues today,” agrees Kim Morrow, DVM, co-owner of AAHA-accredited Magrane Pet Medical Center in Elkhart, Ind. “They are researching pet issues on their own, looking up things on the Internet and presenting us with the results of their research. They ask about things like medication and therapies and are generally interested in actually getting involved in the process, if they can.”

This account is from:

In next week's issue, Helpful Buckeye will get into more detail of what actually happens in pets' lives as they enter their senior years and what you can do to help them move through those years more comfortably.


Well, Major League Baseball announced this week that they would be taking over the day-to-day operations of the LA Dodgers due to the financial mess the current owner and his soon-to-be ex-wife created.  The team immediately started to play like the games actually meant something, winning 3 of 4 from the Braves and 2 of 3 from the Cubs.  We are now within shouting distance of the Rockies in our division.

The San Antonio Spurs are behind in their playoff series against Memphis, 2 games to 1.

Outdoor bike riding has been pretty tough this week.  Springtime is usually fairly windy in northern Arizona and this year, so far, has been no exception.  I was able to "steal" 2 days this week for rides outside, with Saturday's being by far the toughest.  The wind was blowing 25-35 MPH, with gusts up to 45 MPH.  Desperado offered her farewell blessing as I pulled out of the driveway yesterday morning..."You're crazy!", she yelled.  And, I guess I was...but, the way I looked at it, biking in those conditions would help me prepare for the 3 upcoming biking events I've got planned for this year...and none of them are going to be easy.  Preparation and having already wrestled with a difficult situation always seem to make a task more doable.

How does a good friend become a very good friend?  That's easy...she brought a plateful of coconut macaroons to Helpful Buckeye this week.  I'll do just about anything for some coconut....

Desperado and Helpful Buckeye will be taking a trip later this week to the central coast of California.  We'll be spending some time with relatives for several days, then heading further up the coast to Cambria.  Don't worry about missing an issue of Questions On Dogs and week's is already lined up for release.

Still thinking about Desperado's best wishes for my bike ride yesterday, enjoy this video from Paul Simon:
~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

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